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SEf^PENT  Life 





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MiiiMiiwii  irrr  -If  - 

—IMOll   I     HTW^ 

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Ernst  M«yT  Ubwy 
KhtMucn  d  Coniparsfiive  Zoology 

^^^9y^^e^^  J^ot^e->tc/ar-&. 





*^'JS.  Comp.,  Zool. 
Cambridge,  Mass. 

2%  HOPLEY  (C.   C.)  SxAKES:      CuriositS 
and  ^^  onders  of  Serpent  Life.     A^lh  614 



Morrison  &"  Gihb,  Edinburgh, 
Pi  inters  to  Her  Majesty's  Stationery  Office. 





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AUTHOR   OF    'sketches   OF   THE   OPHIDIANS,'    '  LIFE   IN   THE  SOUTH,'  'RAMBLES   AND 

'These  lithe  and  elegant  Beings.' — Rymer  Jones. 

'Can  out-swim  the  Fish  and  out-climb  the  Monkey.'— Owen. 



E.    r.    DUTTON   &    CO.,    NEW    YORK. 

The  Rights  of  Translation  a^id  of  Reproduction  are  reseit'ed. 















I.    SEEING  A  SNAKE  FEED,      ......  27 

II.    SNAKES  OF  FICTION  AND  OF  FACT,  .                .                .  .4! 

III.  OPHIDIAN  TASTE  FOR  BIRDS'  EGGS,  .                .                .  -59 

IV.  DO  SNAKES  DRINK  ?             .                 .  .                 .                 .  -75 
V.    THE  TONGUE  OF  A  SNAKE — PARTI.  WHAT  IT  IS  '  NOT,'  .            94 

VI.   THE  TONGUE  OF  A  SNAKE — PART  II.    WHAT  IT  '  IS,'         .  .  107 

VII.    THE  TONGUE  OF  A  SNAKE — PART  III.    ITS  USES,  .  .         II 5 

VIII.    THE  GLOTTIS,         .  .  .  .  .  .  .         I29 

IX.    BREATHING  AND  HISSING  OF  SNAKES,       .  .  .  .         I42 

X.    HIBERNATION,        .  .  .  .  .  .  -159 

XI.    THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE,       .  .  .  .  .  .         1 70 

XIII.    FRESH-WATER  SNAKES,      ......         221 

XIV.    THE  PELAGIC  OR  SEA  SNAKES,        .....         233 

XV.    *  THE  GREAT  SEA  SERPENT,'  .  .  •  .247 

XVI.    RATTLESNAKE  HISTORY,   ......         268 

XVII.    THE  RATTLE,  .....••         294 

AGES,    .  .  .  .  .  .  •  '315 

XIX.    DENTITION,  ,....••  342 

XX.    VIPERINE  FANGS,  ......         368 





XXI.  THE  CROTALID.^;,  .... 

XXII.  THE  XENODONS,     .  . 



XXVI.   'lizzie,'    ...... 








TO  the  many  friends  who  have  repeatedly  asked  me, 
'  What  C02ild  induce  you  to  take  up  such  a  horrid 
subject  as  snakes?'  a  few  words  of  explanation  must  be 
offered.  Some  words  of  apology  are  also  due  that  I,  a 
learner  myself,  should  aspire  to  instruct  others.  I  cannot 
do  better,  therefore,  than  tell  the  history  of  this  book  from 
its  birth,  and  in  so  doing  cancel  both  obligations.  The 
little  history  will  be  a  sort  of  OPHIDIANA^  or  gossip  about 
snakes  ;  and  in  this  I  only  follow  the  example  of  most 
herpetologists,  who,  when  writing  exclusively  on  these 
reptiles,  preface  their  work  with  some  outline  of  the  history 
of  ophiology,  and  generally  with  an  excuse  for  introducing 
the  unwelcome  subject  at  all.  There  is  still  reason  to  lament 
that  traditional  prejudice  invests  everything  in  the  shape  of 
a  serpent  with  repulsive  qualities,  and  that  these  prejudices 
are  being  only  very  slowly  swept  away  by  the  besom  of 

Serpents    are    intimately   associated    with    our    religious 



beliefs.  Not  that  we  zvorsJiip  them  !  Far  otherwise.  Many 
excellent  and  orthodox  persons  associate  with  a  serpent  all 
the  sin  and  misery  which  ever  existed  on  our  globe,  and 
are  persuaded  that  the  sooner  everything  in  the  shape  of 
one  is  exterminated  the  better. 

On  the  other  hand,  those  who  can  look  at  a  snake  with 
unprejudiced  eyes  and  study  its  habits,  find  continual  reason 
to  wonder  at  and  admire  the  extraordinary  features  which 
exhibit  themselves  in  its  organization.  Owing  to  their 
retiring  habits,  many  of  them  nocturnal,  and  partly  in 
consequence  of  preconceived  errors,  less  is  understood  about 
them  than  almost  any  other  natural  group  of  animals ; 
therefore — as  the  reader  will  discover — a  student,  when  left 
to  himself,  has  to  wade  through  ages  of  writers  in  order 
to  find  out  what  to  believe  regarding  them.  Scientific 
ophiologists  are  still  engaged  in  settling  mooted  questions 
concerning  them.  But  apart  from  science  there  Is  a  glamour 
of  poetry,  romance,  and  mystery  about  snakes,  and  not 
without  reason.  There  has  been  a  great  deal  of  what  we 
may  call  'Drawing-room  Natural  History'  of  late  years — 
charmingly  sensational  and  romantic  ;  attractive  also  in 
illustrations  and  colouring,  but  not  always  intended  as 
reliable  guides  for  students. 

All  travellers  are  not  naturalists  ;  and  though  they  may 
contribute  valuable  information  in  one  branch  of  science, 
it  is  possible  they  may  mislead  in  another ;  and  from  the 
very  popularity  of  their  books,  such  errors  are  rapidly 
disseminated.  I  aspire  to  a  place  on  drawing-room  tables 
for  my  book  also,  but  let  me  assure  my  readers  that  my  aim 
has  been  to  assist  by  diligent  search  to  establish  truthful- 

INTR  on  UCTION.  3 

ness.  Whatever  of  romance  or  sensation  attaches  to  it,  is 
due  to  the  marvellous  powers  of  the  creatures  who  fill  its 
pages,  and  whose  true  nature  I  have  laboured  to  com- 

Schlegel  and  Dumeril  are  two  authorities  on  serpents  much 
quoted  by  English  writers,  and  both  give  us  a  list  of  all  the 
naturalists  of  repute  who  have  done  service  to  herpetology, 
up  to  the  date  of  their  works.  As  many  of  these  are 
introduced  in  the  body  of  my  work,  let  us  glance  at  the 
progress  of  ophiology  since  the  date  of  these  two  dis- 
tinguished authors.  In  zoology  as  much  as  in  any  branch 
of  science  progressiveness  is  observable ;  and  in  zoology 
the  advance  of  ophiology  has  of  late  years  been  remark- 
able. In  1843,  when  Schlegel's  Essai  siir  la  PJiysionomie 
des  Serpents,  1837,  was  translated  into  English  by  Dr.  Thos. 
Stewart  Traill,  of  the  University  of  Edinburgh,  he  mentioned 
as  a  reason  for  curtailing  the  original  (and  not  adding  the 
atlas  containing  421  figures,  with  charts  and  tables),  that 
the  low  state  of  ophiology  in  this  country  did  not  invite 
a  larger  work,  and  '  deters  booksellers  from  undertaking  such 
costly  illustrations ; '  but  he  hoped  to  be  useful  to  science 
by  cultivating  a  branch  of  zoology  hitherto  neglected.  Ten 
years  prior  to  that  date,  viz.  1833,  the  monthly  scientific 
magazine  TJie  Zoologist  was  started  ;  in  introducing  which 
the  Editor,  Mr.  Ed.  Newman,  wrote:  *  To  begin,  the  attempt 
to  combine  scientific  truths  with  readable  English  has  been 
considered  by  my  friends  one  of  surpassing  rashness ; '  that 
he  had  '  many  solicitations  to  desist  from  so  hopeless  a  task/ 
and  many  '  supplications  to  introduce  a  few  Latin  descrip- 
tions  to   give   it    a  scientific  character,'  science  being   then 


confined  to  the  scientific  alone.  Nevertheless  the  Zoologist 
has  survived  half  a  century,  and  under  able  editorship  has 
taken  its  stand  as  a  popular  as  well  as  scientific  journal. 
Formerly  you  might  have  hunted  the  pages  of  such 
magazines  year  after  year  without  finding  mention  of  an 
'  odious  snake ; '  but  within  the  last  decade,  not  only  this 
but  other  periodicals  have  frequently  opened  their  pages 
to  ophiology,  and  a  considerable  removal  of  prejudice  is 

Mr.  Newman  felt  encouraged  by  the  success  attending  the 
publication  of  White's  Selborne,  that  being  one  of  the  first 
works  to  induce  a  practical  study  of  nature.  Yet,  until  the 
appearance  of  Bell's  British  Reptiles  in  1849,  o^^  present 
subject  occupied  but  very  stinted  space  in  literature. 
Indeed,  we  must  admit  that  as  a  nation  we  English  have 
followed,  not  taken,  the  lead  as  naturalists.  So  long  ago 
as  1709,  Lawson  in  his  History  of  Carolina  lamented 
the  *  misfortune  that  most  of  our  Travellers  who  go  to  this 
vast  Continent  are  of  the  meaner  Sort,  and  generally  of 
very  slender  Education  ;  hired  laborers  and  merchants  to 
trade  among  the  Indians  in  remote  parts.'  .  .  .  '  The  French 
outstrip  us  in  nice  Observations,'  he  said.  'First  by  their 
numerous  Clergy  ;  their  Missionaries  being  obedient  to  their 
Superiors.'  Secondly  by  gentlemen  accompanying  these 
religious  missions,  sent  out  to  explore  and  make  discoveries 
and  to  keep  strict  journals,  which  duly  were  handed  over  to 
science.  And  what  Lawson  remarked  of  the  American 
colonies  was  extended  to  wherever  the  French,  Portuguese, 
and  Italians  established  religious  communities.  We  find 
our  bookshelves  ever  enriched  by  foreign  naturalists. 


In  Germany,  also,  ophiology  was  far  in  advance  of  us. 
Lenz,  Helmann,  Effeldt,  and  many  others  pursued  the  study 
practically ;  and  produced  some  valuable  results  in  their 
printed  works,  which  unfortunately  are  too  little  known  in 
England.  Doubtless  because  we  in  England  have  so  few 
native  reptiles,  there  is  less  inducement  to  concern  ourselves 
about  them.  Not  so  in  America,  where  herpetology  soon 
found  many  enthusiasts  ;  and  the  researches  of  Holbrooke, 
Emmons,  De  Kay,  and  Weir  Mitchel  were  published  within 
a  few  years  of  each  other.  Dr.  Cantor  in  India,  and  Dr. 
Andrew  Smith  in  South  Africa,  Drs.  Gray  and  Gunther 
and  P.  H.  Gosse  in  England,  all  enriched  ophlological 
literature  previous  to  1850,  to  say  nothing  of  the 
valuable  additions  to  the  science  dispersed  among  the 
Reports  and  Transactions  of  the  various  scientific  Societies. 
After  the  appearance  of  Dr.  Giinther's  important  work, 
The  Reptiles  of  British  India,  in  1864,  published  under 
the  auspices  of  the  Ray  Society,  another  fresh  impetus 
was  observable,  and  we  had  Krefft's  Snakes  of  Australia, 
1869;  Indian  Snakes,  by  Dr.  E.  Nicholson,  1870;  culmi- 
nating in  The  Thanatophidia  of  India,  by  Sir  Joseph,  then 
Dr.  Fayrer,  F.R.S.,  C.S.I.,  etc.,  Surgeon-Major  of  the  Bengal 
Army,  in  1872,  which  brings  me  to  the  commencement  of 
my  own  studies. 

A  few  years  ago,  I  knew  nothing  whatever  about  snakes  ; 
and  to  them,  though  deriving  my  chief  pleasures  from  an 
inherited  love  of  all  things  in  nature,  a  faint  interest  at  a 
respectfnl  distance,  was  all  I  accorded.  In  Virginia  and 
Florida,  where  a  country  life  and  a  gorgeous  flora  enticed 
my  steps  into  wild  and  secluded  districts,  we  not  unfrequcntly 

.  6  INTR  on  UCTION. 

saw  them  ;  and  one  or  two  ^  narrow  escapes '  seasoned  the 
pages  of  my  notebook.  When  In  such  rambles  we  caught 
sight  of  one,  we  flew  at  our  utmost  speed,  encountering  the  far 
greater  danger  of  treading  on  a  venomous  one  in  our 
precipitous  flight,  than  in  shunning  the  probably  innocent 
one  from  which  we  were  fleeing. 

My  first  startling  adventure  in  Virginia  was  more  ridiculous 
than  dangerous.  We  were  about  to  cross  a  little  rivulet  that 
ran  rippling  through  a  wood,  in  which  there  were  many  such 
to  ford.  Often  fallen  boughs  or  drifting  logs,  dragged  into 
the  shallow  parts  by  the  negroes,  served  as  stepping-stones. 
These  becoming  blackened  in  the  water,  and  partially 
covered  with  tangled  drift-weed,  were  so  familiar  a  sight  that, 
without  pausing  to  observe,  I  was  making  a  spring,  w^hen 
my  companion  caught  hold  of  my  dress,  crying  out,  '  Don't 
step  on  them  !  They  will  bite  you  ! '  The  supposed  shining 
and  tans^led  boug^hs  were  two  larije  black  snakes  commonlv 
known  as  '  Racers,'  enjoying  a  bath ;  but  until  I  had 
hastily  regained  the  top  of  the  bank,  alarmed  at  the 
excitement  of  my  young  friend,  I  did  not  discover  the 
nature  of  our  intended  stepping-stones.  The  snakes  were 
not  venomous,  but  very  '  spiteful,'  and  might  have 
resented  the  interruption  by  sharp  bites.  In  moving,  they 
probably  would  have  caused  me  to  fall  upon  them  and 
into  the  water,  when  they  might  have  attacked  me  with 
unpleasant  results.  Now,  however,  my  chief  vexation  was 
that  they  got  away  so  quickly,  I  could  learn  nothing 
about  them. 

Another  *  escape'  was  on  an  intensely  hot  day,  when 
in  early  morning  we  had  started  for  a  botanical  ramble.     Our 

INTR  on  UCTIOK  7" 

way  lay  along  a  sloping  bit  of  pasture  land,  bounded  on  the 
east  and  higher  ground  by  a  dense  wood,  which  afforded 
shelter  from  the  sun.  Beguiled  on  and  on,  among  the 
lovely  copses  of  exquisite  flowering  shrubs  and  a  wealth 
of  floral  treasures  which  carpeted  the  turfy  slopes,  we  were 
unconscious  of  time. 

Though  only  in  the  merry  month  of  May,  blackberries 
of  enormous  size  and  delicious  flavour,  trailing  on  long 
briars  yards  and  yards  over  the  mossy  grass,  invited  us  to 
break  our  fast ;  and,  all  unmindful  of  the  breakfast-hour, 
we  feasted  and  rested. 

Suddenly  we  found  ourselves  no  longer  shaded  by  the 
wood  to  the  east  of  us,  for  the  sun  had  mounted  high  ;  and 
at  the  first  touch  of  his  scorching  rays  as  we  rose  to  our  feet, 
we  glanced  at  each  other  in  dismay,  for  we  had  open  ground 
to  cross  in  getting  home.  My  Virginia  companion  said  that 
it  would  be  better  to  ford  the  streams  in  the  wood,  than 
risk  sunstroke  by  crossing  a  cornfield,  our  nearest  way  home. 

This  we  decided  to  do,  and  having  surmounted  all 
obstacles,  were  almost  within  earshot  of  the  house,  when 
Ella,  with  a  shriek,  started  and  ran  back,  exclaiming,  '  A 
moccasin ! ' 

'  What  ?  where  ? '  I  eagerly  inquired,  trying  to  follow 
the  direction  of  her  eye. 

*  Oh,  Miss  Hopley,  come  back  !  Quick  !  Come  away  ! 
Water  moccasins  are  worse  than  rattlesnakes,  for  they  dart 
at  you  ! ' 

Sufficiently  alarming,  certainly  ;  yet  I  wanted  to  see  the 
terrible  object,  and  ascertain  how  far  off  it  was,  and  at 
length    discovered    the    head    and   neck   of  a   snake    erect. 


About  a  foot  of  it  was  visible,  and  might  have  been 
taken  for  a  sh'ght  stem  or  stick  standing  perpendicularly 
out  of  the  swampy  herbage  bordering  the  narrow  path. 
The  fixed  eyes  and  darting  'sting' — which  I  then  thought 
the  tongue  to  be — seemed  to  endorse  the  character  my 
young  friend  had  given  it.  Yet  I  lingered,  '  fascinated,'  no 
doubt,  by  its  gaze,  the  fascination  in  my  case  partaking  of 
curiosity  chiefly.  The  reptile  remained  so  rigid  that  I 
was  inclined  to  venture  nearer ;  nor  did  I  welcome  the 
idea  of  having  to  retrace  our  steps  and  risk  the  open  field 
under  that  Virginia  sun.  But  Ella  would  not  hear  of 
passing  the  deadly  snake.  There  were  others,  she  was  sure, 
in  that  swampy  part. 

Well,  we  reached  home  at  last,  more  dead  than  alive, 
having  discarded  our  treasured  specimens  and  substituted 
sprays  of  enormous  leaves  with  which  to  shield  cur  heads 
from  the  sun.  And  I  have  ever  reflected,  that  of  the 
two  dangers — snakes  and  sunstroke — we  risked  the  greater 
in  traversing  that  cornfield  at  such  an  hour. 

Besides  that  'deadly  moccasin'  and  frequent  'black 
snakes,'  there  were  'whip  snakes,'  'milk  snakes,'  and  many 
others  which  the  negroes  would  bring  home  as  trophies  of 
their  courageous  slaughter  ;  but  by  no  scientific  names  were 
they  known  there.  Except  this  name  moccasin  or  mokesoji, 
which  probably  conveyed  some  especial  meaning  to  the 
aborigines,  few  of  the  Indian  vernaculars  have  been 
preserved  in  the  United  States,  as  we  find  them  in  other 
parts  of  America,  which  latter  are  treated  of  in  chapters 
xxii.  and  xxiii.  of  this  work  ;  but  common  English 
names  prevail. 


After  a  time  I  proposed  to  write  a  book  about  snakes, 
starting  with  the  stereotyped  ideas  that  they  all  '  stung ' 
in  some  incomprehensible  way  ;  that  the  larger  kinds  crushed 
up  horses  and  cattle  like  wisps  of  straw ;  and  that  all, 
having  viciously  taken  the  life  of  the  victim,  proceeded  with 
epicurean  gusto  to  lick  it  all  over  and  smear  it  with  saliva, 
that  it  might  glide  down  their  throat  like  an  oyster!  There 
are  those  who  to  this  day  believe  the  same. 

My  proposed  book  was,  however,  simply  to  recount  some 
adventures  among  the  snakes  which  were  encountered  in 
our  American  rambles.  It  was  intended  for  the  amusement 
of  juvenile  readers,  and  to  supplement  the  little  work  about 
my  pet  birds,^  which  had  met  with  so  kind  and  encouraging 
a  reception. 

But  in  order  to  merely  recount  an  adventure  with  a 
snake,  some  knowledge  of  the  reptile  is  essential.  One 
must,  at  least,  be  sure  of  the  correct  name  of  the  'horrid 
thing '  which  lifted  its  '  menacing  head '  a  few  feet  in  front 
of  us;  such  local  names  as  'black  snake'  and  'moccasin 
snake  '  affording  no  satisfactory  information. 

Nor  were  hasty  references  to  books  much  more  satis- 
factory. Mr.  P.  H.  Gosse  had  been  over  the  same  ground, 
gathering  many  interesting  items  of  natural  history ;  but  in 
his  Letters  from  Alabama  I  could  not  decide  on  my  moccasin 
snake.  From  this  and  his  other  works,  and  then  from  the 
authors  quoted  by  him,  I  discovered  only  that  there  were 
many  '  black  snakes,'  some  deadly,  others  harmless.  The 
same  with  the  'moccasin 'snake,  which  was  now  of  this  colour, 
now  of  that.     While  one  writer  expatiates  on  the  beauty  of 

1  Aunt  Jenny  s  American  Pets.     By  Catherine  C.  Hopley.     London,  1872. 


the  'emerald  snake,'  a  'living  gem,  which  the  dark  damsels 
of  southern  climes  wind  round  their  necks  and  arms,'  another 
describes  snakes  of  emerald  green  which  are  dreaded  and 
avoided.  One  traveller  tells  of  a  '  coral  snake '  whose  bite 
is  fatal  within  an  hour ;  while  elsewhere  a  '  coral  snake '  is 
petted  and  handled.  Equally  perplexing  were  the  '  carpet 
snakes,'  'whip  snakes,'  ' Jararacas,'  and  'brown  snakes.' 

Nor  were  names  the  only  puzzle  to  unravel ;  for  in  almost 
every  other  particular  writers  on  snakes  are  at  variance. 

Those  '  moccasin  snakes '  in  Virginia  were  venomous,  I  was 
sure,  having  known  of  accidents  from  their  bite.  Hoping 
to  become  enlightened  as  to  their  true  name  and  character, 
I  repaired  to  the  Zoological  Gardens  to  ascertain  if  they 
were  known  there.  Yes  ;  there  were  several  together  in  one 
cage,  labelled  'Moccasins'  {TropidonottLs  fasciaiiis)  'from 
America  ; '  but  to  identify  them  with  the  one  in  Virginia,  of 
which  I  had  seen  only  a  short  portion  from  a  distance,  was 
impossible.  To  add  to  the  perplexity,  Holland  the  keeper 
assured  me  these  were  '  quite  harmless.' 

'  But  are  you  siire  these  are  harmless  snakes  ?  They  are 
poisonous  in  America.' 

'Well,  miss,  they  have  bitten  my  finger  often  enough  for 
me  to  know,'  returned  Holland. 

'  Then  there  must  be  tivo  kinds  of  moccasin  snakes,'  I 
argued,  '  for  the  others  are  extremely  venomous ; '  and  I 
related  my  Virginia  experiences,  and  that  I  had  known  of  a 
horse  bitten  by  one  that  had  died  in  an  hour  or  so,  fearfully 

'  They  have  never  hurt  me,'  persisted  Holland. 

Subsequently  I  discovered  that  in  the  United  States  this 


name  moccasin  is  a  common  vernacular,  first  and  chiefly 
applied  to  a  really  dangerous  viper,  Ancistrodon  pugnax  or 
piscivortis,  the  one,  most  likely,  that  ^ve  saw  in  the  wood  ; 
and  secondly,  to  a  number  of  harmless  snakes  which  are 
supposed  to  be  dangerous,  and  of  which  those  at  the  Gardens, 
Tropidonotus  fasciattis,  are  among  the  latter.  Thus  at  the 
very  outset  the  puzzles  began. 

Nevertheless,  after  some  research  I  learnt  enough  of  snake 
nature  to  feel  safe  in  proceeding  with  my  book  oi  Adventures, 
and  in  presenting  it  to  a  publisher. 

'As  a  gift-bock  no  one  would  look  at  it,  and  as  an 
educational  work  there  would  be  no  demand  for  it,'  was  its 
encouraging  reception. 

This  was  about  ten  years  ago  ;  and  so  far  from  inducing 
me  to  relinquish  the  subject,  I  began  to  aspire  to  become  a 
means  of  assisting  to  overcome  these  prejudices.  For  the 
space  of  two  years  the  anticipated  'sequel'  to  my  Ame^'ican 
Pets  went  the  round  of  the  London  publishers  of  juvenile 
works,  and  to  several  in  Scotland.  It  was  read  by  many  of 
them,  who  professed  to  have  been  unexpectedly  and  '  ex- 
tremely interested'  in  it — ' bnt' — none  could  be  persuaded  to 
'  entertain  so  repulsive  a  subject.'  One  member  of  a  publish- 
ing house  distinguished  for  the  high  standard  of  its  literature, 
positively  admitted  among  his  insurmountable  objections, 
that  when  a  child  his  mother  had  never  permitted  him  to 
look  through  a  certain  favourite  volume  late  in  the  day, 
'for  fear  the  pictures  of  snakes  in  it  should  prevent  his 
sleeping! ' 

An  editor  of  a  magazine  told  me  he  should  lose  his 
subscribers  if  he  put  snakes  in  its  pages  ;  and  another  made 


excuse  that  his  children  would  not  look  at  the  magazine  with 
a  snake  in  it. 

Perhaps  this  is  not  so  surprising  when  we  reflect  that 
until  within  a  late  date  snakes  in  children's  books,  if  repre- 
sented at  all,  are  depicted  as  if  with  full  intent  of  creating 
horror.  They  are  represented  with  enormously  extended 
jaws,  and — by  comparison  with  the  surrounding  trees  or 
bushes  —  of  several  hundred  feet  in  length  ;  sometimes 
extending  up  a  bank  or  over  a  hedge  into  the  next  field,  or 
winding  round  a  rock  or  a  gnarled  trunk,  that  must  be — if 
the  landscape  have  any  pretensions  to  perspective — a  long 
way  off  Slender  little  tree  snakes  of  two  or  three  feet  long 
are  represented  winding  round  and  round  thick  stems  and 
branches  strong  enough  to  support  you.  Into  the  chasm  of 
a  mouth  from  which  an  enormous  instrument  (intended  for  a 
tongue)  is  protruding,  a  deer  the  size  of  a  squirrel  (by  com- 
parison), or  a  squirrel  the  size  of  a  mouse,  is  on  the  point  of 
running  meekly  to  its  doom. 

No  wonder  children  '  skip '  the  few  pages  devoted  to 
snakes  in  their  natural  history  books,  and  grow  up  full  of 
ignorance  and  prejudices  regarding  them.  In  no  class  of 
literature  are  original  and  conscientious  illustrations  more 
required  than  to  replace  some  of  those  which  reappear  again 
and  again,  and  have  passed  down  from  encyclopaedias  into 
popular  works,  conveying  the  same  erroneous  impressions 
to  each  unthinking  reader. 

The  strongly  -  expressed  opinions  of  publishers  con- 
vinced me  that  the  prejudices  of  adults  must  first  be 
overcome  before  children  could  be  persuaded  to  look 
at  a  snake   as  they  would   look  at   a  bird   or  a  fish,  or  to 


enter  the  Reptile  House  at  the  Zoological  Gardens  without 
the  premeditated  *  Aughs  ! '  and  '  Ughs  ! '  and  shudders. 

During  the  two  years  that  witnessed  the  MS.  of  Atint 
Jeimfs  Adventiwes  lying  In  first  one  and  then  another 
publishing  house,  an  especial  occurrence  acted  as  a  great 
stimulant,  and  Induced  an  almost  obstinate  persistence  In  my 
apparently  hopeless  studies. 

This  was  the  sensation  caused  by  the  dally  papers 
in  reporting  the  case  of  '  Cockburn  versus  Mann  ; '  and  the 
'  Snakes  in  Chancery.'  To  the  horror  and  dismay  of  the 
'  general  public,'  Mr.  Mann,  of  Chelsea,  was  represented 
as  '  keeping  for  his  amusement  all  manner  of  venomous  ser- 
pc7its  ; '  or,  as  another  paper  put  It,  '  Mr.  Mann  had  a  peculiar 
penchant  for  keeping  as  domestic  pets  a  large  number  of 
venomous  snakes.'  (I  copy  verbatim  from  the  papers  of 
that  date.)  That  these  '  water  vipers  and  puff  adders  '  were 
'  apt  to  stray  In  search  of  freedom  ; '  or,  '  being  accustomed 
to  take  their  walks  abroad,'  had  *  strayed  into  the  neigh- 
bours' gardens,  to  the  terror  of  maid-servants  and  children  ; ' 
and  were  'now  roaming  up  and  down  Cheyne  Walk,'  and 
'  turning  the  College  groves  into  a  garden  of  Eden.'  So 
an  action  was  brought  against  Mr.  Mann  :  for  the  neighbours 
decided  that  '  there  was  no  better  remedy  for  a  stray  cobra 
than  a  suit  in  Chancery.'  'Everybody'  during  July  1872 
was  reading  those  delightfully  sensational  articles,  and 
asking,  'Have  you  heard  about  Mr.  Mann's  cobras  ? ' 

Mr.  Frank  Buckland  was  brave  enough  to  venture  Into 
the  dangerous  precincts  of  Cheyne  Walk,  and  even  into  the 
house  of  Mr.  Mann,  to  test  the  virtues  and  vices  of  both  the 
'pets'  and  their  possessors.    He  finally  tranquillized  the  public 


mind  by  publishing  accounts  of  his  visit,  affirming  that 
not  one  of  the  snakes  was  venomous,  but,  on  the  contrary, 
were  charmingly  interesting  and  as  tame  as  kittens.  The 
testimony  of  so  popular  an  authority  served  not  only  to 
allay  local  terrors,  but  to  modify  the  sentence  that  might 
otherwise  have  been  passed  on  the  ophiophilist,  who  was 
merely  cautioned  by  the  honourable  judge  to  keep  his  pets 
within  due  bounds. 

After  this,  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Mann  and  their  domesticated 
ophidians  held  daily  receptions.  I  was  invited  to  see  them, 
and  in  company  with  a  clerical  friend  repaired  to  Chelsea. 
It  was  the  first  family  party  of  snakes  I  had  ever  joined,  and 
I  must  confess  to  considerable  fluctuations  of  courage  as  w-e 
knocked  at  the  door.  Nor  could  one  quite  divest  oneself  of 
apprehension  lest  the  boa-constrictors  to  which  we  were  intro- 
duced should  suddenly  make  a  spring  and  constrict  us  into  a 
pulp.  But  they  didn't.  On  the  contrary,  towards  ourselves 
they  were  disappointingly  undemonstrative,  and  only  evinced 
their  consciousness  of  the  presence  of  strangers  by  entwining 
themselves  about  the  members  of  the  family,  as  if  soliciting 
their  protection.  They  were  very  jealous  of  each  other, 
Mr.  Mann  said;  jealous  also  of  other  company,  as  if  unwilling 
to  lose  their  share  of  attention.  There  were  half-a-dozen  or 
more  snakes — viz.,  several  boas,  of  whom  *  Cleo,'  or  Cleopatra, 
has  become  historical  ;  two  or  three  lacertine  snakes  from 
North  Africa  ;  and  a  common  English  snake.  The  smaller 
ones  were  regaled  on  frogs  for  our  special  edification. 
At  that  time  I  had  never  been  to  the  Reptilium  at  the 
Zoological  Gardens  on  feeding  days,  and  when  Mr.  Mann 
permitted    a    frog    to    hop    about    the    table^    and    we    saw 


the  ring  snake  glide  swiftly  towards  it  and  catch  it  in  its 
mouth,  we  could  not  comprehend  what  was  to  happen  next. 
*  What  will  he  do  with  it  ? '  we  both  exclaimed.  We  had 
not  long  to  wait.  Somehow  or  other  the  frog,  caught  by  its 
hind  leg,  got  turned  round  till  its  head  was  in  the  snake's 
mouth  and  the  hind  legs  were  sprawling  and  kicking,  but  in 
vain.  Then  head-foremost  it  vanished  by  degrees  into  the 
jaws  of  the  snake  ;  while  the  head  of  the  latter,  *  poor  thing,' 
seemed  dislocated  •  out  of  all  shape !  It  was  a  wonderful 
but  painful  sight ;  for  how  the  snake's  head  stretched  in 
that  amazing  manner,  and  how  the  frog  was  drawn  into  the 
mouth,  was  past  our  comprehension. 

An  equally  wonderful  but  far  more  attractive  sight  Vv^as 
Mrs.  Mann,  a  graceful  and  charming  little  lady  in  black 
velvet,  with  Cleo  coiling  around  her  in  Laocoon-like  curves. 
The  rich  colouring  of  the  beautifully-marked  reptile  entwin- 
ing the  slender  form  of  the  woman,  the  picturesque  and 
caressing  actions  of  Cleo,  and  the  responsive  repose  of  Mrs. 
Mann  as  the  snake  was  now  round  her  waist,  now 
undulating  around  and  over  her  head  and  neck,  was 
altogether  a  sight  never  to  be  forgotten.  Two  sweet  little 
children  were  equally  familiar  with  the  other  boas,  that 
seemed  quite  to  know  who  v/ere  their  friends  and  play- 
fellows, for  the  children  handled  them  and  patted  and  talked 
to  them  as  we  talk  to  pet  birds  and  cats. 

Such  were  the  '  vipers,  cobras,  and  puff  adders'  that  had 
figured  in  the  daily  papers.    . 

After  this,  the  reptile  house  at  the  Zoological  Gardens 
became  a  new  attraction.  From  there  to  the  bookshelves 
and  back  again  to  the  Gardens,  my  little    book  of  adven- 


tures  was  discarded  for  a  more  ambitious  work  ;  but  still 
was  confronted  by  disaffected  publishers,  whom  even  the 
Chelsea  snakes  failed  to  convince  of  public  interest. 

Friends  protested — and  still  demand — even  while  I  write 
— *  How  can  you  give  your  mind  to  such  odious,  loath- 
some, slimy  creatures?'  and  I  boldly  reply,  'In  the  hope 
of  inducing  you  to  believe  that  they  are  not  odious  and 
loathsome,  and  especially  not  "slimy,"  but  in  the  majority 
graceful,  useful,  beautiful,  wonderful  I'  And  I  invite  them 
to  accompany  me  to  the  Zoological  Gardens,  and  endeavour 
there  to  contemplate  a  reptile  as  they  look  at  the  other 
denizens  of  the  Gardens,  simply  as  a  member  of  the  wide 
family  of  the  brute  creation,  appointed  by  the  Great  All-wise 
to  live  and  feed  and  enjoy  existence  as  much  as  the  rest,  and 
that  have  to  accomplish  the  purpose  for  which  they  were 
created  equally  with  the  feathered  families  which  we  admire 
and — devour ! 

And  as  whatever  may  be  original  or  novel  in  this  book 
has  been  obtained  at  the  Zoological  Gardens,  I  now  invite 
my  readers  to  accompany  me  in  imagination  to  the 
Ophidarium,  where  we  may  learn  how  that  little  ring  snake 
was  able  to  swallow  his  prodigious  mouthful  without  sepa- 
rating it  limb  from  limb,  as  a  carnivorous  mammal  would 
divide  the  lamb  it  has  killed. 

'  But ' — you  exclaim  in  horror — '  we  do  not  wish  to  con- 
template so  painful,  so  repulsive  a  spectacle !  How  could 
you,  how  can  you,  stand  coolly  there  and  see  that  poor 
frogf  tortured  and  swallowed  ahve?' 

Dear,  tender-hearted  reader,  I  did  not,  I  coidd  not,  un- 
moved,  contemplate    this   sight    at    first ;    nor   for   a   very 


long  while  could  I  bring  myself  to  watch  a  living  creature 
being  drawn  into  that  living  trap.  Nor  could  we — you  and 
I — feel  aught  but  horror  in  visiting  a  slaughter-house  and 
watching  a  poor  calf  slowly  die.  Nor  could  we,  for  pleasure 
merely,  look  coolly  on  at  a  painful  surgical  operation.  Yet 
we  know  that  such  things  must  be.  The  life  of  the  snake 
is  as  important  as  that  of  the  frog.  If  we  are  to  talk  about 
cruelty,  this  book  of  natural  history,  and  of  intended — let 
me  say,  of  hoped-for — usefulness,  would  become  one  of 
political  economy  instead.  We  might  discuss  the  sport  of 
the  angler,  the  huntsman  ;  the  affairs  of  the  War  Office  ;  of 
railroad  managers  and  of  road-makers  ;  the  matters  of  the 
Society  for  the  Prevention  of  Cruelty  to  Animals ;  followed  by 
an  examination  into  the  questions  that  have  been  ventilated 
in  so-called  'benevolent  organs;'  and  how  some  of  them 
employ  writers  who  in  every  tenth  line  betray  their  ignor- 
ance of  the  creatures  they  attempt  to  describe.  Not  even 
theology  could  be  dispensed  with  in  this  work  ;  for,  since  the 
time  when  Adam  was  told  to  have  '  dominion  over  the  fish  of 
the  sea,  and  over  the  fowl  of  the  air,  and  over  every  living 
thing  that  moveth  upon  the  earth,'  the  question  of 'cruelty' 
has  never  been  satisfactorily  solved.  Morally  and  broadly, 
let  us  understand  it  to  mean  unnecessary  torture — pain  and 
suffering  that  can  be  avoided,  and  which  offers  a  very  wide 
scope  indeed.  In  the  animal  world,  '  every  creature  is 
destined  to  be  the  food  of  some  other  creature  ; '  and  by 
these  economics  only  is  the  balance  of  nature  maintained. 
Happily  we  are  spared  the  too  vivid  realization  of  the 
destruction  of  life  ceaselessly  going  on  throughout  creation  ; 
the  myriads  of  Insects  destroyed  each  moment  by  birds,  the 



sufferings  inflicted  by  the  feline  families  and  by  birds  of  prey, 
the  countless  shoals  of  the  smaller  fish  devoured — swallowed 
alive  too  ! — by  larger  ones,  or  caught  (and  not  too  tenderly) 
for  our  own  use.  These  things  we  dismiss  from  our  minds, 
and  accept  as  inevitable.  We  do  not  ventilate  them  in 
daily  journals.  Nor  do  we  take  our  children  to  the 
slaughter-house  or  the  surgery  for  their  entertainment ;  or 
repair  thither  ourselves  for  the  sake  of  minutely  discussing 
afterwards  the  sufferings  we  have  witnessed.  You  will,  I 
hope,  discover  that  the  pain  Inflicted  by  the  constrictor  or 
the  viper  Is  not,  after  all,  so  acute  as  It  is  by  some  imagined 
to  be.  The  venomous  bite  of  the  latter  causes  almost 
immediate  insensibility  ;  the  frog  which  the  ring  snake  ate 
probably  died  of  suffocation,  which  also  produces  insen- 
sibility ;  the  constriction  of  the  boa — in  Its  natural  condition 
— produces  also  a  speedy  death.  Besides,  as  Dr.  Andrew 
Wilson,  in  a  paper  on  this  subject,  has  explained  to  us,  the 
sufferings  of  a  frog  or  a  rat  are  not  like  07Lr  sufferings. 
Their  brain  and  nerves  are  of  a  lower  order.^ 

Permit  me,  therefore,  in  the  outset,  to  dismiss  from  these 
pages  the  question  of  cruelty  as  not  being  a  branch  of 
zoology ;  and  as  we  cannot  prevent  snakes  from  eating 
frogs,  or  the  vipers  from  catching  field  mice  (nor  need  we 
wish  to  do  so,  or  the  small  quarry  would  soon  become  too 
many  for  us),  let  us  examine  the  curious  construction  of 
a  snake's  head  and  jaw-bones  that  enables  it  to  accomplish 
the  task  so  easily. 

With  reference  to  the  rapid  development  of  science,  it  has 

1  'Snakes  and  their  Food,' J/^rtt'r;/   Thought^^dSi.  iSSi,  in  reply  to  a  paper 
in  Time  of  the  previous  September. 


been  said  that  a  scientific  work  is  old  as  soon  as  the  printer's 
ink  is  dry.  Up  to  the  moment  of  sending  my  concluding 
pages  to  press,  I  realize  this  ;  and  remarkably  so  in  the 
growing  interest  in  the  Ophidia.  Writings  on  this  subject 
are  becoming  so  frequent  that,  while  correcting  proofs,  I 
am  tempted  to  add  footnotes  enough  almost  for  another 

Several  circumstances  have  combined  to  enrich  ophio- 
logical  literature  within  a  few  years;  one  which,  in  1872, 
I  quite  think  established  a  sort  of  new  era  in  this 
branch  of  zoology,  was  the  appearance  of  Dr.  Fayrer's 
magnificent  work,  TJie  ThanatopJiidia  of  India.  Mr.  BuUen, 
then  the  Superintendent  of  the  Reading-Room  at  the  British 
Museum,  knowing  that  the  subject  was  engaging  my  atten- 
tion, informed  me  of  the  arrival  of  this  book,  and,  with  his 
ever  kind  thought  for  students,  ordered  it  into  the  room  for 
my  express  use  ;  and  I  think  I  may  affirm,  that  I  was  the 
very  first  *  reader '  who  had  the  privilege  of  inspecting  the 
work,  and,  I  hope,  of  helping  to  make  it  popular.  For 
as  day  after  day  those  huge  folio  leaves  stood  open, 
with  the  conspicuous  and  lifelike  illustrations  almost 
moving  before  your  eyes,  readers  would  linger  and  gaze, 
acquaintances  would  stop  to  inquire  and  inspect ;  some  with 
a  shudder  would  ask  'how  on  earth  I  could  endure  the  sight 
of  such  fearful  creatures  t '  while  a  few  would  manifest 
sufficient  interest  and  intelligence  to  be  indulged  with  a  full 
display,  and  to  whom  I  eagerly  aired  my  convictions  of  the 
tremendous  errors  afloat  concerning  the  snake  tribe. 

*  Beyond    the    pale   of    science    but    little    is    known    of 
Ophiology,'    were    Fayrer's   words.      Two   years   previously 

20  INTR  on  UCTION. 

to  this,  in  1870,  Dr.  Edward  Nicholson  wrote  his  hook,  hid ian 
Snakes,  'in  the  hope  of  dispelling  the  lamentable  ignorance 
regarding  some  of  the  most  beautiful  and  harmless  of  God's 

This  enthusiasm  is  gradually  spreading,  and  we  now  not 
unfrequently  hear  of  domesticated  snakes  in  English  homes  ; 
both  from  friends  who  keep  them,  and  from  the  correspond- 
ence of  the  Field,  Land  and  Water,  and  similar  papers,  in 
whose  columns  inquiries  for  information  are  often  made 
regarding  ophidian  pets.  Lord  Lilford,  one  of  the  kindest 
patrons  of  the  London  Reptilium,  has,  I  believe,  for  many 
years  been  a  practical  ophiologist.  There  is  one  little 
favourite  snake  that  figures  in  these  pages  of  which  his 
lordship  gave  an'  excellent  character  from  personal 
acquaintance,  'the  beautiful  species  ElapJiis-quater-radiatus, 
as  being  the  most  naturally  tame  of  all  the  colubrines, 
never  hissing  or  trying  to  bite  though  frequently  handled.' 
A  noble  lady  not  long  since  carried  a  pet  snake  to  the 
Gardens.  It  was  twined  round  her  arm,  where  it  remained 
quiet  and  content,  though  to  the  alarm  of  some  monkeys 
who  caught  sight  of  it.  Some  members  of  our  Royal 
Family,  with  the  enlightened  intelligence  which  displays 
itself  in  them  all,  have  more  than  once  paid  visits  to 
the  Reptile  House  at  the  Zoological  Gardens,  where  the 
keeper  has  enjoyed  the  high  honour  of  taking  snakes  out  of 
their  cages  to  place  in  royal  hands.  The  good-will  and 
interest  towards  the  inmates  of  the  Ophidarium  are  likewise 
displayed  by  some  country  gentlemen  in  presents  of  game, 
in  the  form  of  ring  snakes  for  the  Ophiophagus  and  frogs  for 
the  lesser  fry.     Lord  Arthur  Russell,  Lord  Lilford,  and  other 

INTR  on  UCTION.  2 1 

distinguished  personages  set  excellent  examples  of  this  kind. 
All  of  which  proofs  of  prejudices  overcome  are  features  in 
the  history  of  ophiology,  and  especially  in  the  last  decade. 

Then,  in  glancing  at  recent  literature,  a  great  change 
is  discernible,  more  particularly  so  during  the  last  two 
years,  since  the  popular  contributions  of  Dr.  Arthur  Strad- 
ling,  a  corresponding  member  of  the  Zoological  Society, 
have  imparted  a  novel  interest  to  this  branch  of  zoology. 
To  this  gentleman  my  own  most  grateful  acknowledg- 
ments are  due,  as  will  be  evident  to  the  reader,  not  only  for 
the  zest  imparted  by  his  correspondence  from  Brazil,  but 
for  some  important  specimens  presented  to  me  by  him, 
which  have  enabled  me  to  describe  them  minutely  from 
personal  observations,  as  well  as  to  add  some  original 
illustrations  from  them.  Though  my  work  and  my  studies 
were  far  advanced,  previous  to  his  valued  acquaintance,  yet 
I  have  been  able  to  enrich  my  pages  from  his  experience, 
and  have  added  footnotes  from  his  published  writings. 

Already,  however,  some  few  dispassionate  students  of 
nature  among  editors  were  promoters  of  herpetology,  and 
I  must  here  express  my  acknowledgments  to  the  talented 
daughters  of  the  lamented  Mrs.  Alfred  Gatty  (and  editresses 
of  \\\2X  facile  princeps  among  juvenile  periodicals.  Aunt  Judy  s 
Magazine),  for  having  been  the  first  to  encourage  and  accept 
from  my  pen  a  snake  in  their  pages,  and  subsequently  several 
papers  on  ophidian  manners  and  habits  for  their  magazine. 

In  preparing '  Sketches  of  the  Ophidians'  for  the  Dublin 
University  Magazine,  December  1875,  and  January  and 
February  1876  (in  all,  about  forty  closely-written  pages),  I, 
by  request  of  the  editor,  included  a  paper   on    the  venom 

22  JNTR  on  UCTION. 

and  the  various  remedies,  though,  reluctant  to  intrude  within 
the  arena  of  professional  science,  a  sort  of  summing  up  of 
evidence  was  all  that  I  attempted.  Having  been  thus 
required  to  glean  some  crude  ideas  from  technical  writings 
(which  necessitated  glossaries  and  dictionaries  to  be  ever  at 
hand),  I  again  add  a  chapter  on  the  *  Venoms'  to  my 
present  work.  Left  entirely  to  my  own  independent  con- 
clusions, if  I  have  ventured  to  think  in  opposition  to  some 
popular  writers,  and  have  even  presumed  to  offer  some 
suggestions  of  my  own,  I  trust  I  may  be  treated  with 

With  regard  to  the  terrible  death-rate  from  snake-bite  in 
India,  it  does,  however,  appear  to  me  that  journalists  who 
hold  up  their  hands  in  horror,  and  write  strong  articles  on 
this  subject,  lose  sight  of  the  religious  and  social  condition 
of  the  low-caste  Hindus,  who  are  the  chief  sufferers,  and 
whose  superstition  is  so  fatal  to  them.  S7iake-worship  is 
the  root  of  the  evil !  Edtication  must  lower  the  death-rate. 
During  the  visit  of  H.R.H.  the  Prince  of  Wales  to  India, 
the  entire  programme  was  on  one  occasion  interrupted 
because  some  Hindu  children,  to  whom  a  feast  was  to  be 
given,  could  not  eat  in  the  presence  of  Christians,  whose 
'shadow  would  have  polluted  their  food,'  or  some 
obstacle  of  this  nature.  Similar  difficulties  arise  when 
they  are  snake-bitten  ;  their  creed  prohibits  their  having 
recourse  to  approved  remedies.  'Snake-charmers'  and 
native  quacks  are  sent  for  instead,  and  often  when  cures 
are  possible  the  fatalists  submit  to  death. 

To  Professor  Owen,  who  six  years  ago  permitted  me  the 
honour  of  dedicating  this  contemplated  work  to  him,  and  to 

INTR  OD  UCTION.  2  3 

others  who  were  then  led  to  expect  its  early  appearance,  I 
may  be  allowed  to  offer  an  excuse  for  tardiness.  Like  the 
creatures  which  fill  its  pages,  I  succumb  to  the  chills  of 
winter,  and  depend  on  the  suns  of  summer  for  renewed 
vigour  and  activity.  At  one  time  impaired  health,  and  the 
enforced  suspension  of  literary  pursuits  under  the  threatened 
loss  of  the  use  of  my  right  hand,  were  grievous  interruptions. 

Filial  duties  and  domestic  bereavements  caused  another 
two  years'  delay.  Banished  to  the  seaside,  and  the  pen 
prohibited  during  the  winter  of  1874-75,  I  had  almost 
despaired  of  turning  my  studies  to  account,  when  a  new 
impulse  arrived  in  the  shape  of  a  note  from  the  editor 
of  Chambers's  Journal^  begging  to  know  if  my  'work 
on  the  Ophidia  was  out,  and  by  whom  published '  ?  My 
*  work  on  the  Ophidia  '  t  Could  that  mean  my  poor,  despised 
little  book  that  had  been  long  ago  submitted  among  others 
to  those  Edinburgh  publishers  ?  My  work  on  the  Ophidia  ! 
I  began  to  get  better  from  that  day ;  and  from  that  date, 
March  1875,  I  have  had  the  inexpressible  pleasure  and 
privilege  of  including  among  my  kindest  and  most  sympa- 
thetic ophiological  friends,  the  Editor  of  that  popular 
journal.  On  the  Ophidia,  he  entrusted  me  with  work  in 
various  directions,  encouraged  by  which  I  again  returned 
to  town,  and  to  the  Zoological  Gardens. 

If  I  am  so  fortunate  as  to  afford  instruction  or  entertain- 
ment in  the  following  pages,  my  readers  will  join  me  in 
congratulating  ourselves  on  the  possession  of  so  large  and 
valuable  a  zoological  collection  as  that  in  the  Regent's 
Park,  without  which  this  book  could  not  have  been 
attempted.    And  I  may  embrace  this  opportunity  of  express- 


ing  my  sincere  thanks  to  the  President  and  Council  of  the 
Zoological  Society  for  the  privileges  and  facilities  afforded 
me  at  their  Gardens,  where  not  only  the  Reptilium  but  the 
annual  series  of  zoological  lectures  there,  given  by  the  first 
biologists  of  the  day,  have  been  of  inexpressible  use  to  me. 

I  would  also  express  my  thanks  to  Professor  Flower,  Hun- 
terian  Professor  at  the  Royal  College  of  Surgeons,  London, 
for  his  invariable  courtesy  in  facilitating  my  examination  of 
the  ophiological  specimens  in  the  museum  of  that  College, 
to  which  my  honoured  father  (himself  a  member)  attributed 
all  the  love  of  the  study  of  natural  history  which  from  our 
earliest  recollections  were  encouraged  in  his  children.  My 
thanks  are  also  due  to  Dr.  Giinther  of  the  British  Museum 
for  similar  facilities  there.  Indeed,  the  words  of  encourage- 
ment given  me,  no  less  than  six  years  ago,  by  the  dis- 
tinguished heads  of  the  zoological  department  of  our  great 
national  collection,  sustained  my  courage  in  opposition 
to  all  counter  influences  outside  the  British  Museum.  When 
first  contemplating  and  presenting  some  outline  of  this 
work  to  Dr.  Giinther,  he  honoured  me  by  expressing  his 
opinion  that  such  a  book  was  *  much  needed  ; '  that  it 
would  be  'extremely  useful  and  interesting.'  He  was 
even  so  kind  as  to  promise  to  state  this  opinion  in  writing 
to  any  publisher  who  might  consult  him  on  the  subject. 
I  here  claim  the  pleasure  of  thanking  my  present  publishers 
for  dispensing  with  the  necessity  of  troubling  Dr.  Gunther, 
and  for  entrusting  me  with  the  preparation  of  this 
book,  which,  before  a  chapter  of  it  w^as  completed,  they 
engaged  to  publish.  Deficient  as  I  feel  it  to  be,  it  is  at 
length  launched  on  the  doubtful  waters  of  public  criticism. 

INTR  OD  UCTION.  2  5 

If  any  scientific  eyes  honour  it  with  a  glance,  they  will  with 
clemency  remember  that,  with  no  scientific  knowledge  what- 
ever to  start  with,  I  have  had  to  grope  my  way  unaided, 
plodding  over  technicalities  which  in  themselves  were 
studies ;  and  if,  as  no  doubt  is  the  case,  any  misappre- 
hension of  such  technicalities  has  here  and  there  crept 
in  and  misinterpreted  the  true  meaning,  I  anxiously  trust 
that  the  truth  has  not  been  altogether  obliterated  by  such 

In  conclusion,  let  me  not  omit  a  grateful  tribute 
to  the  invariable  kindness  of  the  heads  of  the  Reading- 
Room  at  the  British  Museum  ;  and  for  their  assistance  in 
obtaining  books  of  which  I  might  never  have  known.  The 
kindness  of  Mr.  Garnett  extended  even  beyond  the  Reading- 
Room  ;  for  while  I  was  invalided  at  the  seaside,  and  could 
only  read,  not  zvrite,  he  translated  and  forwarded  to  me 
some  important  pages  from  Lenz,  a  German  ophiologist. 
To  him,  therefore,  the  thanks  of  the  reader  are  also  due. 

In  the  choice  of  illustrations  my  aim  has  been  rather 
to  exemplify  a  few  leading  features  than  to  attract  by 
brilliantly-figured  examples.  Some  of  the  woodcuts  are 
borrowed  from  Giinther's  and  Fayrer's  works  ;  others  I  have 
drawn  faithfully  from  natural  specimens;  but  in  them  all 
I  am  indebted  to  the  kind  and  patient  work  of  Mr.  A.  T. 
Elwes  in  reproducing  my  own  imperfect  attempts.  And  as  it 
was  impossible  to  draw  a  snake  /;/  action  from  life,  or  to 
witness  a  second  time  the  precise  coils  or  movements  which 
had  at  first  struck  me  as  remarkable,  the  composition  of 
some  of  these  subjects  was  by  no  means  an  easy  one.  Our 
united  efforts  have  been  to  represent  the  natural  actions  as 



far  as  possible,  and  this  I  hope  may  commend  them  to  the 

There  are  few  English  persons  who  have  not  relatives  in 
India,  Australia,  America,  and  Africa,  and  from  whom  they 
are  continually  hearing  of  escapes  or  accidents  from  snakes. 
Many  letters  from  these  friends  beyond  the  seas  find  place  in 
the  columns  of  the  daily  journals.  Whether,  therefore, 
naturalists  or  not,  a  very  large  class  of  the  intelligent  public 
claims  an  anxious  interest  in  the  Serpent  race,  and  to  all  of 
whom  my  Ophidiana  or  snake  gossip  is  hopefully  addressed. 


London,  October  1882. 





IN  any  person  who  for  the  first  time  witnesses  a  snake 
with  prey  just  captured,  the  predominant  feeHng 
must  be  one  of  surprise  at  the  seemingly  unmanageable  size 
of  the  animal  it  has  seized  ;  and  he  probably  exclaims  to 
himself,  or  to  his  companion,  as  we  did  on  the  occasion 
described  in  the  introduction,  '  What  will  he  do  with  it  ? ' 
Let  us  again  take  our  common  ring  snake,  Coluber 
iiatrix,  that  ate  a  frog  for  our  edification  ;  only,  in  the 
present  instance,  instead  of  seeing  a  tame  snake  in  a 
private  residence  at  Chelsea,  w^e  will  suppose  ourselves  to 
be  watching  one  on  the  banks  of  a  stream  in  fine  summer 
weather.  A  slight  movement  in  the  grass  causes  us  to  turn 
our  eyes  towards  the  spot,  and  we  are  just  in  time  to  see  the 
quick  dash,  and  the   next  instant  a   recalcitrant   frog   held 


28  SNAKES. 

aloft  in  the  jaws  of  a  snake  that  with  elevated  head  glides 
up  the  bank.  Coluber's  head  is  no  bigger  than  a  filbert,  and 
the  frog  is  nearly  full  grown,  its  body  inflated  to  twice  its 
original  size,  and  its  legs,  of  impracticable  length  and  angles, 
kicking  remonstrantly. 

'  How  in  the  world  is  the  snake  going  to  manage  it  ? ' 
again  you  exclaim,  and  your  amazement  is  not  exceptional. 
It  is  what  has  been  witnessed  and  heard  weekly  in  London 
when  the  public  were  admitted  to  the  Reptilium  on  feeding 
days,  and  it  is  what  the  reader  will  recall  in  his  own  case 
Vv^ien  first  informed  that  a  snake  was  going  to  swallow  that 
monstrous  mouthful  undivided. 

In  the  present  instance,  the  injury  to  froggie's  feelings 
thus  far  partakes  more  of  moral  than  of  physical  pain,  for 
the  grasp  of  the  snake  is  not  violent,  and  he  finds  that  the 
more  he  struggles  the  more  he  injures  himself.  Yet  he 
kicks  and  struggles  on,  at  thus  being  forcibly  detained 
against  his  will.  In  the  mouth  of  the  snake  he  is  as  propor- 
tionately large  as  the  shoulder  of  mutton  in  the  jaws  of  the 
dog  that  has  just  stolen  it  from  the  butcher's  shop.  How 
do  the  canines  manage  unwieldy  food  t  The  dog  can 
tackle  the  joint  of  meat,  big  though  it  be,  because  he  has 
limbs  to  aid  him,  and  he  was  prepared  for  emergencies 
before  he  stole  it.  He  knew  of  a  certain  deserted  yard  up 
a  passage  close  by,  and  of  some  lumber  stacked  there  ; 
he  watched  his  opportunity,  and  is  off  to  his  hiding-place  ; 
and  once  hidden  behind  the  lumber,  he  settles  down  quietly 
with  his  ill-gotten  dinner  firmly  held  between  his  fore-paws, 
while,  with  eyes  and  ears  on  the  alert,  he  gnaws  away. 

The  snake,  no  doubt,  knows  of  a  hole  in  the  bank,  or  in  a 


hollow  tree,  in  which  he  can  hide  if  alarmed  ;  but  he  cannot 
set  his  frog  down  for  one  instant,  nor  can  he  relax  his  jaws 
in  the  slightest  degree,  or  his  dinner  hops  away,  and  he  has 
to  pursue  it,  or  wait  for  another  frog,  when  the  same  thing 
may  happen  again.  He  has  only  his  teeth  to  trust  to,  and 
these  have  all  the  work  of  paws  and  claws,  and  nails  and 
talons,  to  accomplish,  while  yet,  not  for  one  instant,  must 
they  relinquish  their  hold. 

'Besides! — how  much  too  big  that  frog  is  for  Coluber's 
small  mouth ! '  And  we  continue  to  gaze  in  wonder- 
ment, filled  with  amazement .  that  brings  us  to  the  book- 
shelves, to  endeavour  to  comprehend  the  phenomenon. 
Not,  however,  until  we  have  seen  the  end  of  that  frog  on 
the  banks  of  the  stream,  where  the  reader  is  supposed 
to  be  waiting. 

First,  let  me  explain  that  in  the  manner  of  feeding,  snakes 
may  be  divided  into  three  classes,  viz.  those  that  kill  their 
prey  by  constriction  or  by  smothering  it  in  the  coils  of 
their  body  ;  those  that  kill  by  poison ;  and  some  smaller 
kinds,  which,  like  the  ring  snake,  eat  it  alive — the  latter  a 
quick  process,  which  may  also  be  said  to  be  death  by 
suftocation.  Our  little  Coluber  is  in  a  spot  where  we  can 
watch  it  easily  ;  so  we  keep  rigidly  still,  and  soon  perceive 
that  though  the  snake  just  now  had  hold  of  froggie's  side, 
he  now  has  the  head  in  his  mouth.  How  can  this  be }  and 
how  has  he  managed  to  shift  it  thus,  almost  imperceptibly, 
while  seeming  to  hold  it  still }  Now  the  head  begins 
to  disappear,  and  the  snake's  jaws  stretch  in  a  most  dis- 
torted fashion,  as  if  dislocated  ;  its  head  expands  out  of  all 
original  shape,  while  slowly,  slowly,  the  frog  is  drawn  in  as 

30  SiVAKES. 

if  by  suction.  Now  its  legs  are  passive  ;  they  no  longer 
kick  right  and  left,  but  lie  parallel,  as  by  degrees  they  also 
vanish,  and  only  the  four  feet  remain  in  sight.  These 
presently  have  been  sucked  in,  and  the  skin  of  the  snake  is 
stretched  like  a  knitted  stocking  over  the  lump  which  tells 
us  just  how  far  down  Coluber's  neck  the  frog  has  reached. 
Gradually  the  lump  gets  farther  and  farther  down,  but  is 
less  evident  as  it  reaches  the  larger  part  of  the  body.  The 
snake  remains  still  for  a  few  moments  till  his  jaws  are 
comfortably  in  place  again  ;  then  he  yawns  once  or  twice, 
and  finally  retires  for  his  siesta,  and  we  to  the  bookshelves. 

*  Snakes  work  their  prey  down  through  the  collapsed 
pharynx,'  says  Giinther.  That  is,  the  muscles  of  the  throat 
seize  upon  what  is  presented  to  them,  and  do  their  part,  as 
in  other  animals.  Only,  in  most  other  animals  there  is  the 
action  of  swallowing,  one  mouthful  at  a  time ;  whereas  in 
serpents  the  action  is  continuous,  the  throat  going  on  with 
the  work  begun  by  the  teeth,  which  in  a  snake  is  only 
grasping  and  working  the  food  in  with  a  motion  so  gradual 
as  to  simulate  suction.  The  reason  why  the  head  and  jaws 
have  been  so  enormously  stretched  and  distorted,  is  because 
all  the  bones  are,  in  common  language,  loose  ;  that  is,  they 
are  not  consolidated  like  the  head-bones  of  higher  animals, 
but  united  by  ligaments  so  elastic  as  to  enable  them  to 
separate  in  the  way  we  have  seen.  This  extends  to  the 
jaws,  and  even  to  the  palate,  which  is  also  armed  with  teeth, 
two  rows  extending  backwards.  The  lower  jaw  or  mandible 
being  extremely  long,  the  elastic  ligament  by  which  the 
pair  of  bones  is  connected  in  front,  forming  the  chin,  enables 
them  to  separate  widely  and  move  independently.     This  is 


the  case  in  a  lesser  degree  with  the  palate  bones,  and  the 
upper  jaw-bones,  all  six  being  furnished  with  long,  fine,  re- 
curved, close-set  teeth,  adapted  for  grasping  and  holding, 
but  not  for  dividing  or  for  mastication  in  any  way. 

For,  as  we  have  seen,  if  a  snake  were  to  open  Its  mouth 
one  moment  for  the  purpose  of  what  we  call  biting,  the  prey 
would  escape.  In  addition  to  a  very  unusual  length,  the 
lower  jaw  Is  joined  to  the  skull  by  an  extra  bone, — one 
which  Is  not  found  In  mammals,  but  only,  I  think,  In  birds, — 
a  long  'tympanic'  bone,  which  forms  an  elbow,  and 
permits  of  that  wide  expansion  of  the  throat  necessary  for 
the  passage  of  such  large  undivided  prey. 

The  illustration  of  the  skeleton  of  a  cobra,  on  p.  33, 
will  enable  the  student  to  distinguish  the  principal 
head-bones.  There  Is  so  much  similarity  of  construction 
throughout  the  whole  ophidian  families  that  a  cobra  Is 
chosen  here,  because  the  unusually  long  anterior  ribs  which 
form  the  hood  can  be  obsei-ved,  and  the  expansion  of 
which  Is  described  elsewhere.  The  longer  teeth  in  the  upper 
jaw  are  here  fangs ;  the  inclination  of  the  other  rows 
of  teeth  and  the  bones  sufficiently  Illustrate  those  of  the 
non-venomous  kinds  generally,  such  as  the  little  rlno- 
snake  that  has  just  swallowed  his  frog.  A  few  of  the 
larger  constricting  snakes  possess  an  additional  bone — 
an  Intermaxillaiy  in  front  between  the  upper  jaws,  very 
small,  yet  sometimes  furnished  with  two  or  four  teeth, 
thus  facilitating  the  expansion  of  the  jaws  as  well  as  the 
retention  of  the  food. 

It  is  this  adaptive  development  of  head-bones  that  enabled 
Coluber  natrix  to  turn  his  frog  round  to  a  more  convenient 

32  SNAKES, 

position,  and  then  draw  it  into  his  mouth  so  gradually  that 
we  scarcely  comprehended  how  it  disappeared.  The  six 
rows  of  small  teeth  form  six  jaws  so  to  speak,  each  one  of 
which  advanced  a  very  little,  while  the  other  five  were  en- 
gaged in  holding  firmly.  In  those  largest  pythons  which 
have  the  little  bone  in  front  between  the  two  upper  jaw- 
bones (intermaxillary)  we  may  say  there  are  seveft  jaws.  As 
those  gigantic  snakes  have  to  deal  with  proportionately 
large  and  strong  prey,  they  are  thus  enabled  to  retain  and 

manage  it. 

In  the  graphic  language  of  Professor  Owen  let  me  re- 

The  mouth  can  be  opened  laterally  or  transversely,  as  in 
insects,  as  well  as  vertically,  as  in  other  vertebrates.  The 
six  jaws  are  four  above  and  two  below,  each  of  which  can 
be  protruded  or  retracted  independently  of  the  others. 
'  The  prey  having  been  caught  and  held,  one  jaw  is  then 
unfixed  by  the  teeth  of  that  jaw  being  withdrawn  and 
pushed  forward,  when  they  are  again  unfixed  farther  back 
upon  the  prey;  another  jaw  is  then  unfixed,  protruded,  and 
re-attached,  and  so  with  the  rest  in  succession.  This  move- 
ment of  protraction,  being  almost  the  only  one  of  which  they 
are  susceptible,  while  stretched  apart  to  the  utmost  by  the 
bulk  of  the  animal  encompassed  by  them  :  and  thus  by 
their  successive  movements,  the  prey  is  slowly  introduced 
into  the  gullet.'^ 

This  working  of  the  jaws  would  be  almost  imperceptible 
excepting  to  a  very  close  observer.  In  the  lower  jaw- 
bones the  independent  action  can  be  more  readily  perceived 

1  Odontogi-aphy.     By  Richard  Owen.     London. 




Skeleton  of  a  Cobra  (from  Owen's  Anatomy  of  the  Wr  ted  rates). 

34  SNAKES. 

and  is  often  very  grotesque,  one  side  of  the  mouth  open- 
ing while  the  other  is  closed,  conveying  the  idea  of  the 
reptile  making  grimaces  at  you  ;  but  the  gradual  disappear- 
ance of  the  prey  so  much  more  bulky  than  the  snake  itself 
is  quite  incomprehensible  until  we  are  acquainted  with  the 
remarkable  phenomena  of  the  six  rows  of  teeth  acting 
independently.  Thus,  in  turning  the  frog  round  to  adjust 
it  to  a  more  convenient  position,  the  jaws  acted  like  hands 
in  moving,  dragging,  or  shifting  some  cumbrous  article, 
say  a  carpet  or  a  plank,  when  the  left  hand  follows  the 
movement  of  the  right  hand  until  the  plank  or  carpet  is 
worked  round  or  forward  in  the  required  direction. 

The  form  and  arrangement  of  the  fine  claw-shaped  teeth 
assist  the  process.  They  are  too  close  together,  and  the 
pressure  is  too  slight  to  inflict  a  wound  ;  they  merely  retain 
what  they  hold,  and  it  is  in  vain  for  the  prey  to  struggle 
against  them,  or  it  might  get  some  ugly  scratches  as  they 
all  incline  backwards.  In  chapter  xix.  illustrations  of 
teeth,  life-size,  show  their  forms  and  direction  ;  here  it  only 
need  be  added  regarding  them,  that  the  above  description 
refers  chiefly  to  the  non-venomous  snakes. 

The  palate  being  covered  with  that  armoury  of  teeth,  the 
snake  must  have  but  a  slight  sense  of  taste,  which  is  to  its 
advantage,  we  should  say ;  for  having  no  assistant  in  the 
shape  of  beak  or  limbs  to  divide  its  prey,  hair,  fur,  feathers, 
dust — all  must  be  swallowed  with  the  meal,  completely  dis- 
guising whatever  flesh  they  cover,  so  that  we  should  suppose 
the  process  of  feeding  could  be  productive  of  very  little 
enjoyment  to  the  reptile.  Perhaps  out  of  this  state  of  things 
has  developed  their  habit  of  eating  so  seldom,  but  when  they 


do  take  the  trouble  of  feeding,  of  doing  it  thoroughly,  so  that 
their  meal  lasts  them  a  long  while. 

Deglutition  is  greatly  facilitated  by  an  abundant  supply 
of  saliva,  which  lubricates  that  uncomfortable  coating  of 
feathers  or  fur ;  but  '  lubrication '  is  understood  to  refer 
merely  to  the  natural  secretions  of  the  mouth,  in  which  the 
tongue  performs  no  part  at  all. 

The  salivary  apparatus  of  snakes  is  peculiar  to  them,  and 
very  complicated.  Even  the  nasal  and  lachrymal  glands 
pour  their  superfluous  secretions  through  small  canals  into 
the  mouth.^  These  active  and  abundant  glands  are  excited 
by  hunger  or  the  sight  of  food,  just  as  in  mammals  ;  and 
for  the  more  common  expression  of  the  mouth  '  watering ' 
that  of  *  lubrication '  is  here  used,  because  over  the  rough- 
coated  prey  these  salivary  secretions  act  as  a  great  aid  in 
deglutition.  The  erroneous  impressions  that  have  obtained 
on  this  subject  are  touched  upon  in  describing  the  tongue 
(chap.  vi.). 

A  circumstance  happened  at  the  London  Zoological  Gardens 
a  few  years  ago,  which,  although  familiar  to  many,  may  be 
referred  to  as  bearing  on  two  of  the  above  features — namely, 
the  dull  sense  of  taste  in  a  snake,  and  the  abundant  supply 
of  mucous  secretions.  It  was  in  the  case  of  a  large 
boa  which  swallowed  her  blanket.  She  was  about  to 
change  her  skin,  and,  as  usual  on  such  occasions,  was 
partially  blind,  as  also  indifferent  to  food.  The  rabbits 
given  to  her  dodged  her  grasp,  and  her  appreciation  of 
flavours  was  not  sufficient  to  enable  her  to  discriminate 
between  blanket  and   rabbit  fur ;  so,  seizing    a    portion    of 

^  Essai  sur  la  Physionomie  des  Serpents.     Par  Herman  Schlegel.     Paris,  1837. 

36  SNAKES. 

the  rug,  she  with  natural  instinct  constricted  this,  and  pro- 
ceeded to  swallow  it.  She  was,  however,  made  to  disgorge 
it  afterwards,  when  it  was  scarcely  recognisable  from  the 
thick  and  abundant  coating  of  mucous  in  which  it  was 
enveloped.  Mr.  F.  Buckland  described  its  appearance  as 
that  of  a  *  long  flannel  sausage.' 

These  highly-developed  salivary  glands  are  beneficent 
provisions  in  the  economy  of  the  serpent  race.  The  reptile 
cannot,  as  we  said,  tear  flesh  from  bones,  and  discard  the 
latter ;  nor  separate  the  food  from  the  enveloping  feathers  or 
fur ;  nor  reject  whatever  unsavoury  portions  other  animals 
might  detach  and  leave  uneaten.  All  must  be  swallowed 
by  a  snake,  and  all  digested  ;  and  its  digestion,  sufficiently 
powerful,  is  aided  by  the  excessive  flow  of  saliva,  or  the 
insalivation  of  such  food. 

It  is  not  difficult  to  make  snakes  disgorge  their  food. 
They  often  do  so  on  their  own  account,  when,  after  swallow- 
ing some  bulky  meal,  they  are  alarmed  or  pursued,  and 
escape  is  less  easy  with  that  load  to  carry.  The  illustration 
exhibiting  the  numerous  ribs,  which  are  all  loosely  articulated 
with  the  spinal  column,  enables  us  to  comprehend  the  capacity 
for  bulk,  and  the  ease  with  which  these  fine  ribs  would 
expand  to  accommodate  a  body  even  broader  than  the  snake 
itself.  We  comprehend,  also,  why  it  is  that  a  creature 
swallowed  alive  need  not  be  injured  or  wounded  by  the 
mere  fact  of  being  swallowed,  but  would  die  of  suffocation 
after  all.  A  frog  has  been  known  to  turn  round  and 
escape  from  the  body  of  the  snake,  if  the  latter  indulge  in 
a  prolonged  yawn  ;  and  yawning  almost  always  does  follow 
as  soon   as  the  prey  is  swallowed,  because  the  snake  has 


for  the  time  breathed  less  regularly,  and  now  requires  to 
take  in  a  fresh  supply  of  air.  In  this  act  you  see  the  two 
jaws  extended  to  an  enormous  degree,  almost,  indeed,  to 
form  one  straight  line  perpendicularly.  In  such  condition 
the  teeth  are  well  out  of  the  way,  and  the  adjustable  ribs, 
expansile  covering,  and  loose  head  bones  render  them  not 
insurmountable  obstacles  to  an  escape  when  the  prey  is 

One  sometimes  hears  of  the  egg-stealing  snakes,  cobras, 
etc.,  when  surprised  and  pursued,  first  relieving  themselves 
of  their  plunder  before  they  attempt  to  escape.  Often  it 
may  be  observed,  when  two  snakes  are  in  a  cage  together, 
and  both  get  hold  of  the  same  frog  or  rat,  that  they  each 
advance  upon  it  till  their  heads  meet,  when  either  the  stronger 
or  the  larger  snake  will  gain  the  day,  and  finish  his  frog, 
and  then  proceed  to  swallow  his  friend  ;  or  else  one  will 
relinquish  his  hold,  when,  even  in  those  few  minutes,  the 
half-swallowed  prey  will  be  completely  disguised  in  the 
mucous  saliva  which  has  already  enveloped  it. 

Some  snakes,  though  not  quarrelsome  at  other  times, 
for  some  reason  inexplicable  to  the  looker-on,  persistently 
set  their  heart  on  the  same  bird  or  frog,  though  many  are 
presented  for  their  choice.  In  a  pair  of  Tropidonoti  at  the 
Gardens  this  occurs  almost  every  week  ;  and  in  such  instances 
the  keeper  keeps  a  sharp  watch  over  them  ;  for  as  neither 
snake  will  relinquish  its  capture,  the  one  that  begins  first 
comes  in  contact  with  the  head  of  his  comrade,  who  will 
assuredly  be  swallowed  too,  were  not  a  little  moral,  or  rather 
physical  coercion  in  the  shape  of  a  good  shaking  adminis- 
tered.    Sometimes  both  get  their  ears  boxed,  figuratively; 

38 .  ■  SNAKES. 

yet  the  discipline  has  no  more  than  a  passing  effect,  and 
next  week  the  same  thing  happens  again. 

Not  many  months  ago  a  very  vaUiable  snake  was  thus 
rescued  literally  from  the  jaws  of  death.  A  South  American 
rat  snake  {Geoptyas  collaris)  began  to  eat  a  rabbit  that  was 
put  in  the  cage  for  a  python,  which  also  began  to  eat  it. 
Collaris  would  not  let  it  go,  and  so  the  python  continued 
to  advance  upon  it  until  he  came  to  his  comrade,  and  pro- 
ceeded with  this  prolonged  repast.  Collaris  is  a  rather  large 
snake  of  some  eight  or  ten  feet  long.  When  nearly  the 
whole  of  him  had  vanished,  the  keeper — who,  of  course, 
had  been  occupied  at  each  cage  in  turn — fortunately  dis- 
covered about  a  foot  of  tail  fast  disappearing  in  the  mouth 
of  the  python,  the  whole  of  Collaris,  excepting  this  caudal 
portion,  having  been  swallowed.  Just  in  time  to  rescue  the 
victim,  the  keeper,  by  his  experienced  manipulation,  made 
the  python  open  his  mouth,  while  the  assistant  helped  to  pull 
at  Collaris.  At  last  they  pulled  back  all  the  seven  feet  of 
snake,  which  sustained  no  further  injury  than  a  slight  scratch 
or  two  against  the  python's  teeth  ;  but  he  seemed  none  the 
worse,  and  was  no  sooner  free  than  he  seized  a  rat,  con- 
stricted and  ate  it  with  a  celerity  which  seemed  to  say  he 
would  make  sure  of  a  meal  this  time. 

On  the  following  Friday  the  very  same  thing  was  about 
to  occur  again.  Collaris  had  begun  to  swallow  the  python's 
rabbit,  the  latter  having  prior  hold  ;  but  the  keeper  was  on 
the  watch,  and  administered  a  little  practical  reproof  which 
made  the  rat  snake  loosen  his  hold.  Matters  were  further 
complicated  on  this  occasion  by  the  python  throwing  some 
coils   around  his  intended   feast,  so  that  to  get  a  purchase 


and  manage  these  two  constrictors  was  less  easy  than  on 
the  previous  occasion,  though  then  the  snake  had  been 
swallowed.  In  the  same  cage  were  also  two  other  pythons, 
quite  strong  enough  to  strangle  a  person  had  they  taken  a 
fancy  to  hug  him  round  the  neck.  Both  were  aroused  and 
displeased  at  the  commotion,  and  ready  to  'fly'  at  the 
men,  who,  on  the  whole,  had  an  exciting  time  with  the 
four  constrictors,  all  from  eight  to  twelve  feet  long. 

Cannibalism  is  very  common  in  snakes,  particularly  among 
the  ElapidcB,  which  have  small  and  narrow  heads,  and  can 
therefore  more  conveniently  swallow  a  fellow-creature  than 
a  bird  or  a  quadruped.  The  keeper  told  me  that  often 
a  box  arrives  at  the  Gardens  labelled  'Ten  cobras,'  or 
'  twelve,'  as  may  be ;  when,  on  opening  the  box,  the  number 
falls  short ;  suggesting  that  cannibalism  has  diminished 
the  company.  It  is  a  curious  fact,  however,  that  snakes, 
as  a  rule,  seize  prey  whose  bulk  far  exceeds  their  own, 
even  when  a  more  manageable  kind  could  be  easily  caught. 
It  is  as  if  they  were  aware  of  the  accommodating  nature  of 
their  multifold  ribs ;  as  a  snake  longer  than  themselves 
must  be  doubled  up  in  their  stomach,  and  those  broader  than 
themselves  must,  one  would  imagine,  be  a  most  uncomfort- 
able meal  to  dispose  of  Yet  this  is  common.  Mr.  H.  W. 
Bates  found  in  a  jarraraca  an  amphisboena  larger  than  itself, 
and  in  another  snake  a  lizard  whose  bulk  exceeded  its  own. 
My  BraziHan  correspondent,  Dr.  Arthur  Stradling,  wrote  me 
of  a  similar  circumstance.  He  received  a  little  Elaps  lem- 
Jiiscatus  in  Maceio,  which  presented  a  singularly  bloated 
appearance.  It  no  doubt  felt  itself  in  a  condition  not 
favourable  to  rapid  escape  ;  or  captivity  impaired  its  diges- 

40  SNAKES. 

tion,  for  '  the  next  morning  it  disgorged  an  amphisbosna  or 
small  serpent  (it  was  half  digested)  actually  longer  than 
itself,  and  weighing  half  as  much  again.' 

Prodigious  meals  engender  drowsiness,  and  thus  the 
Ophidia  habitually  repose  a  long  while  after  taking  food. 

This  habit  of  gorging  enormous  prey  being  one  of  the 
most  striking  of  ophidian  characteristics,  it  has  been  intro- 
duced thus  early  in  my  work,  as  affording  opportunity  for 
a  general  glance  at  the  anatomical  structure.  In  the  next 
chapter  we  will  enumerate  a  few  other  peculiar  features,  ere 
proceeding  to  examine  in  detail  some  of  the  most  important 



IN  a  celebrated  lecture  on  *  Snakes,'  given  by  Mr.  Ruskin 
at  the  London  Institution  in  March  1880,  he  intro- 
duced his  subject  with  the  three  considerations:  'What  has 
been  thought  about  them  ? '  *  What  is  truly  known  about 
them?' — extremely  little,  as  he  suggested; — and, 'What  is 
wisely  asked  about  them,  and  what  is  desirable  to  know  ? ' 

The  three  questions  exactly  agree  with  the  object  of  my 
work,  this  chapter  especially ;  and  I  will  invite  my  readers 
to  seek  in  their  own  minds  the  answer  to  the  first  question, 
which  will  also  furnish  a  solution  to  the  second,  and,  I 
trust,  incite  some  interest  in  the  third. 

The  learned  lecturer  carried  us  through  the  realms  of 
fancy,  to  conjure  up  all  the  grotesque  creatures  which,  under 
the  name  of  '  serpents,'  have  figured  in  heraldry  and  mytho- 
logy. By  these,  and  by  the  light  of  the  poets  of  old,  and 
in  later  times  through  the  naturalists  of  the  sixteenth  and 
seventeenth  centuries,  we  learn  what  a  '  serpent '  was  to 
them,  and  what  it  included.  In  remote  antiquity  it  was 
an   embodiment   of  the   hideous  and   the  terrible ;    and   in 


42  SNAKES. 

spite  of  Aristotle  (a  comparatively  recent  authority),  dragons 
and  such-like  chimaerical  creatures  have  pervaded  the  mind 
both  of  the  erudite  and  the  ignorant,  in  association  with 
serpents,  till  within  three  hundred  years,  and  are  not  ev^en 
yet  altogether  discarded. 

Nor  am  I  inclined  to  believe  that  the  terror-inspiring 
representations  of  classic  days  are  so  unreal  as  might 
be  supposed.  Palaeontology  is  continually  bringing  to 
light  new  evidences  of  the  presence  of  man  on  the  earth 
in  ages  far  remote  ;  and  we  do  not  know  for  certain 
what  strange  forms  of  animal  life  were  his  contemporaries, 
or  when  the  faculty  of  speech  was  so  far  developed 
in  him  as  to  enable  him  to  learn  about  his  predecessors, 
which  were  still  more  terrible.  We  do  know  that  fossils 
of  mammoth  creatures,  passing  strange,  are  coeval  with 
fossil  humian  remains,  and  to  those  early  types  of  humanity 
a  knowledge  of  still  stranger  creatures  of  reptilian  forms 
may  have  been  handed  down  from  mouth  to  mouth  ;  for 
there  is  generally  a  germ  of  truth  at  the  root  of  a  myth. 
Fossil  remains  tell  us  of  the  gigantic  forms  of  ancient 
reptiles,  or  compound  reptile  -  fish  or  reptile  -  birds,  and 
quadrupeds  which  have  gradually  diminished  in  size  or 
become  altogether  extinct  as  our  own  period  has  been 

Said  Professor  Huxley,  at  the  British  Association  in 
1878,  'Within  the  last  twenty  years  we  have  an  astonishing 
accumulation  of  evidence  of  the  existence  of  man  in  ages 
antecedent  to  those  of  which  we  have  any  historical  record. 
Beyond  all  question,  man,  and  what  is  more  to  the  purpose, 
intelligent  man,  existed  at  a  time  when  the  whole  physical 


conformation  of  the  country  was  totally  different  from  that 
which  now  characterizes  it.' 

Did  these  intelligent  beings  know  anything  of  the 
Dinotheriimi  (dreadful  beast),  or  the  Dinornis  (dreadful  bird), 
or  any  other  of  those  fearful  forms  which  have  furnished 
historic  ages  with  a  dragon  ? 

Coming  down  to  our  own  era,  and  the  time  when  travel 
and  education  first  induced  the  observation  and  study  of 
animals  with  a  view  to  learn  their  habits,  and  to  arrange 
them  under  some  system  of  classification,  we  begin  to  see  the 
perplexities  that  presented  themselves  to  naturalists,  especi- 
ally with  regard  to  egg-producing  creatures.  To  Topscll, 
a  writer  of  the  seventeenth  century,  every  creeping  or  crawl- 
ing thing  was  'a  Serpente,'  and  many  insects  were  included 
in  his  category.  To  Lawson,  on  the  contrary,  every  egg- 
producing  creature,  if  not  a  bird,  was  an  'Insect.'  In 
his  History  of  Carolina,  1709,  he  describes,  under  'Insects 
of  Carolina,'  all  the  snakes  he  saw,  also  the  alligators,  lizards, 
etc.,  and  thus  continues :  '  The  Reptiles  or  smaller  Insects 
are  too  numerous  to  relate  here,  the  Country  affording 
innumerable  quantities  thereof;  as  the  Flying  Stags  with 
Horns,  Beetles,  Butterflies,  Grasshoppers,  Locusts,  and  several 
hundred  of  uncouth  Shapes.'  Having  thus  gone  through 
the  '  Insects,'  except  the  *  Eel-snake  '  (which  turns  out  to  be 
a  '  Loach'  or  leech),  he  gets  puzzled  over  a  '  Tortois,  vulgarly 
called  Turtle,  which  I  have  ranked  among  the  Insects,  because 
they  lay  Eggs,  and  I  did  not  know  well  where  to  put  them.' 
And  Lawson  was  not  alone  in  not  knowing  '  where  to  put ' 
a  countless  number  of  other  creatures  that  go  to  form  the 
endless  links   in   the   long  chain  of  living  organisms  ;   even 

44  SNAKES. 

plants,  which,  to  use  Darwin's  words,  *  with  animals,  though 
most  remote  in  the  scale  of  nature,  are  bound  together  by 
a  web  of  complex  relations.'  You  may  place  the  dove  at 
one  end  of  the  chain  and  the  crocodile  at  the  other,  without 
one  broken  link.  The  earliest  bird  which  palaeontology 
has  revealed  had  teeth  in  its  bill,  claws  on  the  end  of  its 
wings,  and  a  long  tail  with  feathers  growing  out  of  it,  like  a 
pinnate  leaf. 

We  see  those  strange  forms  reproduced  in  the  gardens  of 
the  Crystal  Palace.  Lizards  with  the  head  of  a  bird  and 
other  combinations,  the  Pterosauria  or  w^inged  -  lizards, 
Ichthyosauria  or  fish-lizards,  of  which  some  representative 
types  still  exist  in  the  African  Lepidosiren  and  the  Mexican 
Axolotl,  which  have  puzzled  modern  physiologists  as  much  as 
the  Carolina  tortoise  puzzled  Lawson  ;  for  whether  to  call 
them  reptiles  or  fishes  was  long  a  disputed  question.  Dr. 
Carpenter,  in  his  Zoology,  reckons  fifty-eight  of  such  links 
among  reptiles  ;  as,  for  instance,  the  transition  from  turtles 
to  crocodiles,  from  tortoises  to  lizards,  in  which  latter  we 
find  the  legs  growing  shorter,  till  they  are  gone  altogether 
in  the  blindworms  and  amphisbaenas.  These  again  branch 
off  to  the  cecilias,  and  the  cecilias  to  worms  on  one  side, 
and  to  frogs  on  the  other,  having  the  form  of  a  snake,  but 
the  skin  of  the  batrachian.  There  are  the  Ophiosaurians, 
snake-lizards,  and  Saurophidians,  lizard-snakes;  there  are 
lizard-like  frogs  and  frog-like  lizards  ;  some  of  them  begin- 
ning life  with  gills,  and  becoming  air-breathers  afterwards, 
others  of  saurian  aspect  retaining  their  gills  through  life  ; 
and  from  these,  again,  is  the  transition  between  reptiles  and 
fishes.     There  are  diminutive  snakes  of  worm-like  aspect, 


and  gigantic  worms  which  might  be  mistaken  for  snakes; 
and  among  modern  naturalists,  that  is  to  say  within  one 
hundred  years,  worms  have  been  classed  with  reptiles  when 
none  such  enormous  species  as  those  lately  found  in  Africa 
were  dreamed  of. 

There  is  in  no  branch  of  zoology  so  much  confusion  as 
in  herpetology ;  and  if  the  reader  will,  with  a  sweep  of  the 
imagination,  embrace  the  innumerable  forms  that  come 
under  the  class  Reptilia^  their  various  coverings,  and  their 
close  gradations,  he  will  not  wonder  at  this.  Let  us  glance 
at  a  few  of  the  systems  adopted  by  Linnaeus  and  others 
of  his  time,  who,  we  must  remember,  had  to  combat  not 
only  inherited  ideas  of  'creeping  things,'  but  the  diffi- 
culties presented  by  badly  stuffed  or  bottled  specimens  ; 
the  latter  often  having  been  so  long  in  alcohol  that  their 
colours  had  flown,  or  their  covering  changed  in  texture. 
The  Atlantic  was  not  crossed  in  a  week  in  those  days ;  and 
three  months,  instead  of  three  weeks,  barely  sufficed  to 
reach  India,  to  say  nothing  of  inland  journeys  when  you 
got  there.  If  foreign  specimens  came  home  after  the  mani- 
pulations of  a  taxidermist,  he  had  done  his  very  best  to 
render  them  as  hideous  as  tradition  painted  them.  Some- 
times a  wooden  head  on  a  stuffed  body  ;  teeth  that  might 
furnish  the  jaws  of  the  largest  felines,  and  a  tongue  to 
match  ;  while  with  external  cleansings,  scrapings,  and  polish- 
ings,  it  were  hard  to  discover  what  manner  of  skin  had 
originally  clothed  the  creature. 

Carefully  chosen  v/as  Aristotle's  name  for  reptiles,  'the 
terrestrial,  oviparous,  sanguineous  animals  ; '  for  those  which 
we  are  considering,  breathe  by  lungs,  and  are  therefore  red- 

46  SNAKES. 

blooded.  Cuvier  divided  the  egg-producing  animals  into 
oviparous  quadrupeds  (lizards,  turtles,  crocodiles,  and  frogs)  ; 
bipeds,  the  birds  ;  Insects  and  serpents.  Linnaeus — who,  by 
the  way,  preceded  Cuvier — called  all  reptiles  '  amphibious 
animals/  of  which  serpents  were  the  second  order,  those 
*  without  limbs.'  He  also  divided  them  into  orders,  genera, 
and  species ;  but  in  the  Ophidia  was  guided  too  much  by 
the  scales,  which  has  caused  confusion  ever  since,  as  both 
poisonous  and  harmless  snakes  often  present  similar  cha- 
racters in  this  respect. 

If  the  reader  will  turn  to  the  illustration  of  scales  (p.  193), 
he  will  see  an  example  of  the  large  scutae  or  ventral  plates 
that  are  possessed  by  the  majority  of  the  true  Ophidia. 
The  burrowing  snakes,  most  of  them  small  and  allied  to 
lizards  in  their  structure,  are  protected  by  a  cuirass  of  hard, 
close-set,  polished  scales,  alike  all  round ;  or  else  with  a 
thick,  smooth  skin  arranged  in  rings.  Some  very  poisonous 
serpents,  notably  the  sea-snakes,  have  also  the  scales  alike 
all  round,  because  they  do  not  require  the  hold  which  those 
large  ventral  scales  afford  to  land  serpents  in  progression  ; 
but  it  will  at  once  be  seen  that  on  so  slight  a 
resemblance  It  would  be  unsuitable  to  arrange 
such  widely-differing  families  in  the  same  group. 
The  majority  of  snakes  have  the  scales  under 
the  tail  different  from  those  under  the  body  ; 
and  a  very  large  number,  both  of  venomous 
and  innocuous  snakes,  have  broad  ventral  scales, 
as  far  as  the  termination  of  the  body,  and  then 
a  double  row  where  the  tail  commences.  The 
accompanying  illustration  is  sufficient  to  convey 


a  general  idea  of  the  arrangement  of  the  scales  before  and 
after  the  anus. 

Linnaeus  called  all  serpents  with  these  two  rows  of  sub- 
caudal  scales,  Colubers^  including  under  this  name  many 
both  large  and  small,  land  and  water,  poisonous  and  harm- 
less snakes.  In  respect  for  the  great  talent  and  vast  work 
accomplished  by  this  eminent  naturalist,  as  well  as  his  then 
paramount  and  diffusive  knowledge,  his  systems  prevailed 
for  a  very  long  while.  Cuvier,  after  Linnaeus,  became  also 
a  great  authority  for  a  time.  He  recognised  distinctions  in 
the  fangs  of  venomous  snakes,  and  would  reform  some 
previous  errors  regarding  scales.  '  Boa  comprenaient 
autrefois  tous  les  serpens  venimeux  ou  non,  dont  le  dessous 
du  corps  et  de  la  queue  est  garni  de  bandes  d'une  seul 
piece.'  ^  It  was  equally  unsuitable  to  mingle  those  with 
the  double  rows,  as  it  put  a  viper  and  a  coluber  together. 
Cuvier  also  made  closer  distinctions  between  the  lizard-like 
snakes  and  the  true  Ophidia,  *  serpens  propremejit  dit!  The 
words  Jieipetology  (from  the  Greek),  and  serpents  (from  the 
Latin  serpo),  formerly  embraced  a  much  larger  variety  ; 
the  former  may  include  all  reptiles,  while  the  more 
recently  adopted  one  of  opJdology  comprises  snakes  only. 
And  the  history  of  the  word  tells  of  the  history  of  the 
distinctions  gradually  adopted  as  above  described,  as  the 
true  snakes  or  serpents,  without  external  limbs,  were  sepa- 
rated from  the  rest. 

The  various  names  for  a  snake — Anguis,  Serpens,  Coluber, 
etc. — having  been  made  generic  distinctions  by  some  of  the 
older  naturalists,  cause  considerable  puzzle  to   the  student, 

^  Regne  Anitnal,  p.  108.     Paris. 

48  SNAKES. 

who  finds  these  words  applied  alike  to  many  varying 
species  in  as  many  books,  because  a  writer  has  often  taken 
one  author  for  his  guide,  instead  of  comparing  a  number. 
Many  modern  writers  on  ophiology  give  us  a  list  of  syno- 
nymes,  which  in  time  are  found  to  unravel  the  above 
perplexities,  but  which  are  at  first  more  puzzling  than  not, 
because  a  single  snake  is  presented  to  you  under  so  many 
different  names.  This  will  be  apparent  in  the  course  of  this 
work,  wherein  much  that  is  merely  suggestive  in  the  present 
chapter  will  be  treated  more  fully  under  various  headings, 
without,  I  trust,  offering  a  too  wearisome  repetition.  In- 
deed, the  whole  study  of  the  Ophidia  presents  so  many 
exceptions  that  recapitulations  may  be  acceptable  rather 
than  otherwise.  An  interlacing  of  subjects  has  not  here 
been  avoided  so  much  as  contrived.  In  the  hope  of  present- 
ing the  whole  more  clearly  to  the  mind  of  the  student. 

Ruskin  favoured  his  audience  with  printed  lists  of  the 
*  names  of  the  snake  tribe  in  the  great  languages.'  And 
these  I  gladly  reproduce  for  the  benefit  of  my  readers. 

*  Names  of  the  Snake  Tribe  in  the  Great 


1.  Ophis  (Greek),  'the  seeing'  (creature,  understood). 
Meaning  especially  one  that  sees  all  round  it. 

2.  Dracon  (Greek),  Drachen  (German),  '  the  beholding.' 
Meaning  one  that  looks  well  into  a  thing,  or  person. 

3.  Anguis  (Latin),  '  the  strangling.' 

4.  Serpens  (Latin),  '  the  winding.' 

5.  Coluber  (Latin),  Couleuvre  (French),  'the  coiling.' 


6.  Adder  (Saxon),  '  the  grovelling.' 

7.  Snake  (Saxon),  Schlange  (German),  '  the  crawling ' 
(with  sense  of  dragging,  and  of  smoothness). 

The  first,  and  Ophidioii,  a  small  serpent,  Ophiodes,  etc., 
have  given  the  name  Ophiology  to  the  science  ;  the  second 
was  also  a  '  serpente  '  in  days  of  yore.  The  third,  Angids^  is 
now  applied  to  some  of  the  smooth,  burrowing  snakes ;  and 
the  rest  speak  for  themselves. 

Before  quite  taking  leave  of  obsolete  teachings,  a  few 
lines  from  two  very  distinguished  authors  of  the  seventeenth 
century  must  be  quoted,  the  influence  of  both  having  no 
doubt  gone  a  great  way  towards  diffusing  beliefs.  Lord 
Bacon — in  his  book.  Of  the  Proficience  and  AdiLancement  of 
Learning,  Diidne  and  Humane .  To  the  King.  1605 — 
writes,  '  It  is  not  possible  to  join  Serpentine  Wisdom  with 
the  Columbine  Innocency,  except  men  know  exactly  all 
the  conditions  of  the  Serpent ;  his  Baseness  and  going  upon 
his  Belly,  his  Volubility  and  Lubricity,  his  Envy  and  Sting  ; 
for  without  this.  Virtue  lyeth  unfenced.' 

What  quality  is  to  be  understood  by  'Volubility,'  the 
reader  must  decide.  Of  the  other  five  offences,  all  except 
that  of  crawling  are  simply  imaginary.  By  *  Lubricity,'  a 
supposed  sliminess  may  be  intended,  or  the  old  fable  of  '  lick- 
ing '  the  prey  ;  and  the  only  reasonable  interpretation  of  the 
*  Sting  '  is  that  the  old  Saxon  word  styng  did  imply  a  wound 
punctured  or  pierced  with  any  fine,  sharp  instrument ;  and  the 
venomous  tooth  is  not  so  very  unlike  an  insect's  sting  after 

The  next  is  from  Pepys'  Diary,  vol.  i.  'p.  322. — Feb.  4th, 


50  SNAKES, 

1 66 1  : — '  Mr.  Templer,  an  ingenious  Man,  discoursing  of  the 
Nature  of  Serpents,  told  us  that  some  in  the  waste  Places  of 
Lincolnshire  do  grow  to  a  Great  Bigness,  and  do  feed  upon 
Larkes  which  they  take  thus  : — They  observe  when  the  Larke 
is  soared  to  the  Highest,  and  do  crawl  till  they  come  to  be 
just  underneath  them,  and  there  they  place  themselves  with 
their  mouth  uppermost  ;  and  there,  as  it  is  conceived,  they 
do  eject  Poyson  upon  the  Bird  ;  for  the  Bird  do  suddenly 
come  down  again  in  its  course  of  a  Circle,  and  falls  directly 
into  the  Mouth  of  the  Snake.' 

This  story,  founded  on  fact,  is  related  by  a  beholder 
who,  to  use  the  words  of  Dr.  Andrew  Wilson  when  dis- 
coursing on  '  Zoological  Myths,'  made  *  an  unscientific  use 
of  his  imagination.'  Our  largest  English  snake  has  no 
poison  to  '  eject,  as  it  was  conceived.'  Quite  possible  that 
it  might  have  looked  up  towards  the  singing  lark,  and 
with  the  swiftness  of  the  bird  in  its  descent,  glided  towards 
the  spot,  ready  to  pounce  upon  it.  The  absurdity  of  poison 
being  ejected  upwards  through  a  needle-like  fang, — had 
the  snake  possessed  such  an  instrument, — and  to  such  a 
height,  is  evident. 

Having  reduced  a  very  large  circle  of  anomalous  rep- 
tiles, till  the  Ophidia  only  are  in  possession  of  the  en- 
closure, let  me  endeavour  to  dispose  of  these  according 
to  the  present  accepted  methods — not  of  classification,  or 
this  volume  would  be  mere  lists  of  names.  In  1858,  when 
Dr.  Gunther  arranged  and  classified  the  collection  in  the 
British  Museum,  there  were  3100  colubrine  snakes  (those 
with  no  viperine  features)  ;  and  when  you  think  of 
these  three  thousand  odd  having,  on  an  average,  a  dozen 


names  each  (the  reason  for  which  is  deferred  till  the  later 
chapters),  my  readers  will  cheerfully  dispense  with  much 
in  the  way  of  classes  and  orders,  especially  as  the  present 
methods  are  reckoned  very  defective,  and  there  is  a  loud 
cry  for  a  new  classification  of  the  Reptilia.  Already  the 
reader  can  surmise  some  of  the  difficulties,  and  they  will 
be  more  evident  as  we  proceed. 

The  whole  order  of  Ophidia  may  be  divided  into  the 
venomous  and  the  non-venomous,  or  into  other  two 
divisions,  viz.  those  which  approach  the  Saurians,  having 
scales  alike  all  round,  vestiges  of  shoulder  bones  and 
hind  limbs,  and  with  ribs  nearly  encircling  the  body ;  and 
those  which  have  the  broad  ventral  plates,  no  rudimentary 
limbs,  and  a  tongue  far  more  extensible  than  the  previous 

It  will  not,  I  trust,  be  out  of  place  to  introduce  a 
table  as  presented  to  us  at  some  of  the  '  Davis  Lectures ' 
at  the  London  Zoological  Gardens ;  for  I  think  I  am 
safe  in  saying  this  arrangement  is  adopted  by  nearly 
all  our  living  authorities.  To  go  back  to  the  days  of 
our  childhood  and  the  game  of  'Animal,  Vegetable,  or 
Mineral } ' — the  original  three  kingdoms  of  Nature, — the 
first  heads  our  table  :  Animal  Kingdom.  Next  comes  the 
sub-kingdom,  comprising  five  divisions,  namely  mammals, 
birds,  reptiles,  frogs,  and  fishes,  each  of  which  is  divided 
into  class,  order,  family,  genus,  species,  with  sometimes 
a  sub-class  or  a  sub-order.  Professor  St.  Georcfe  Mivart 
divides  the  whole  of  the  reptiles  into — (i)  Chclonia,  the 
tortoises ;  (2)  OpJiidia,  the  snakes  ;  (3)  Crocodilia,  or  Lori- 
cata,   the    crocodiles ;    (4)    Saiin'a,    the   lizards.      Batrachia, 

52  SNAKES. 

the  frogs,  he  separates,  because  they  begin  life  as  a  fish. 
Originally  there  were  nine  orders  of  reptiles  ;  then  for  a 
long  while  we  were  taught  that  there  were  four, — Chelonians, 
Ophidians,  Saurians,  and  Batrachians.  Every  one  of  the 
above  so  merges  into  the  others  that  many  herpetologists 
differ  in  drawing  the  lines  between  them. 

If  we  were  asked  to  define  our  little  friend,  the  ring 
snake,  that  ate  a  frog  while  we  were  studying  his  anatomy, 
we  would  say  that  he  belongs  to  the — 

1.  Animal  Kingdom. 

2.  Sub-Kingdom,  Vertehrata. 

3.  Class,  Reptilia. 

4.  Order,  Ophidia. 

5.  Family,  Tropidonotus. 

6.  Genus,  Coluber. 

7.  Species,  Matrix. 

He  is  most  frequently  known  as  Colicber  natrix,  though 
as  both  words  mean  simply  a  snake,  the  name  is  inadequate. 
In  fact,  our  common  English  snake  has  been  rather  neglected 
in  the  way  of  titles,  the  only  generic  name  which  is  at  all 
descriptive  being  Tropidonotus,  so  called  from  the  keel  which 
characterizes  the  scales.  So  he  is  Tropido7iotiis  natrix,  and 
Natrix  tropidonotiis,  and  Natrix  torqnata  of  the  different 
authors,  the  last-named  specific  presumably  given  on 
account  of  the  collar  which  he  wears,  and  which  being 
often  yellow,  has  gained  for  him  the  name  of  '  ring  snake.' 
Cohcber  natrix,  having  so  few  synonymes,  they  are  all 
given,  in  illustration  of  what  has  been  already  said  of  the 
perplexity  of  names  assigned  by  different  naturalists.     And, 


by   the  way,   this    'nng'   or   'collar'   is   not   an   invariable 
mark.      Sometimes  the  yellow  is  wanting   altogether,  and 
only    a    white    collar    is     displayed.         At    the     time    of 
writing  1  there   is   one   of  these  snakes   at   the    Zoological 
Gardens  with  not  the  least  tint  of  yellow  on  its  neck ;  and 
I  have  before  me  in  alcohol  a  very  young  and  beautiful 
little  specimen   in   which   the   white   collar   is    very   bright 
and  large,  and  set  off  with  deep  black  behind  it,  but  there 
is  not  an  approach  to  yellow  or  to  a  ring,  the  throat  being 
pure  white.     His    Latin    specific  is  therefore   more   appro- 
priate than  his  English  one,  the  collar  being  always  there, 
but  not  always  the  ring. 

Dr.  Giinther  divides  the  whole  of  the  Ophidia  into  five 
groups,  and  in  briefly  describing  these  I  shall  hope  to  con- 
duct my  readers  towards  a  consideration  of  those  remark- 
able features  which  will  be  discussed  under  their  various 
heads,  and  which  will  exhibit  the  class  as  unique  in  their 
marvellous  organization  and  physical  powers. 
The  five  groups  are — 

1.  Burrowing  Snakes. 

2.  Ground  Snakes. 

3.  Tree  Snakes. 

4.  Fresh-Water  Snakes. 

5.  Sea  Snakes. 

(i)  The  Burrowing  Snakes  live  chiefly  underground,  some 
of  them  working  their  way  down  like  the  worms ;   and  to 
fit  them  for  this  life  they  are  characterized  by  having  short 
stiff  bodies  covered  with  hard,  firm,  close  scales,  to  form  an 

^  January  18S2, 

54  SNAKES. 

armour.  Most  of  them  have  short  and  rather  curious  tails, 
as  described  in  chap.  xi.  ;  but  many  that  burrow  and  hide  in 
the  ground  live  a  good  deal  on  the  surface  as  well.  Our 
little  native  slow-worm  {Angids  fragilis)  is  allied  to  these. 
Their  heads  are  small  and  narrow,  their  muzzle  smooth 
and  strong  to  help  them  to  work  their  way.  Their  jaws  do 
not  stretch  apart,  nor  does  their  head  get  out  oT  shape  in 
eating,  the  bones  being  all  more  consolidated ;  and  their 
food  being  chiefly  insects,  slugs,  worms,  etc.,  they  seize  upon 
these,  and  hold  them,  and  then  with  quick  snaps  get  them 
down  their  throats.  Many  of  them  have  rudiments  of  a 
sternum,  and  pelvic  bones — vestiges,  perhaps,  is  a  more 
correct  term,  as  we  shall  find  by  and  by,  for  their  saurian 
ancestors  had  perfect  limbs.  The  group  is  large,  perfectly 
harmless,  and  has  representatives  in  most  countries  where  a 
snake  or  a  lizard  is  to  be  found.     None  are  of  great  size. 

(2)  The  Ground  Snakes  iVioXw^iQ  by  far  the  greatest  number 
and  diversity,  and  though  passing  their  time  chiefly  on  the 
surface  like  our  '  ring  snake,'  can  both  climb  trees  and  enjoy 
the  water.  Some  of  the  most  venomous  as  well  as  the 
harmless  and  gentle  kinds,  and  some  of  the  largest  as  well  as 
the  smallest,  live  habitually  on  the  ground.  To  fit  them  for 
progression,  they  have  the  broad  ventral  scales  described  on 
p.  46,  wide  dilatable  jaws  like  Coluber  natrix,  and  scales  of 
various  patterns  and  colourings.  Vipers,  the  cobras,  the 
coronellas,  the  boas,  moccasins,  'carpet  snakes,'  and  other 
familiar  names  belong  to  this  large  group. 

(3)  Tree  Snakes  include  both  venomous  and  innocent 
genera.  They  are  none  of  them  large,  many  of  them  of 
a   brilliant  green,   and   some   of  them  exquisitely  beautiful. 


Slender  and  active,  the  harmless  kinds  skim  among  the 
branches,  which  scarcely  bend  beneath  their  weight.  ]\Iany 
of  them  have  small  and  peculiarly  arranged  ventral  shields, 
not  requiring  to  hold  on  in  progression  ;  many  also  have 
long  prehensile  tails,  which  wind  and  cling  while  the  little 
acrobats  swing  to  and  fro,  or  hang  down  to  take  a  young 
bird  or  an  egg  out  of  the  nest.  The  poisonous  kinds  of  tree 
snakes  abound  in  India,  have  a  thick  body,  broad  head,  and 
a  dull,  sluggish  habit,  but  still  are  handsome  as  to  colour, 
and  mostly  green.  They  hide  in  the  trunks  of  trees,  or  in 
the  hollow  forks  of  the  branches,  and  rarely  venture  upon 
the  ground.  Some,  however,  live  only  in  bushy  foliage 
low-er  down,  while  other  arboreal  species  frequent  the  highest 
branches,  where,  moving  with  amazing  celerity,  they  are  as 
much  at  home  as  the  feathered  inhabitants. 

(4)  Fresh-  Water  S?iakes  are  especially  adapted  for  an 
aquatic  existence,  and  have  their  nostrils  on  the  top  of 
the  snout,  to  enable  them  to  breathe  easily  when  in  the 
water.  Some  of  them  can  hold  on  to  weeds  or  other  things 
by  their  tails.  They  swim  and  dive,  and  are  as  active  as 
eels.  None  are  very  large,  and  all  are  harmless.  But  a 
good  many  of  the  second  group  that  are  poisonous,  spend  so 
much  of  their  time  in  the  water  that  they  are  know^n  as  '  water 
vipers,'  '  water  moccasins,'  etc.,  though  not  truly  water  snakes. 

(5)  Sea  Snakes. — All  highly  venomous.  These,  as  also 
the  fresh-water  snakes,  are  treated  fully  In  chapters  xiii. 
and  xiv.  The  five  divisions  assist  the  student  towards 
grasping  an  idea  of  the  principal  groups,  but  the  whole 
five  pass  into  each  other  by  intermediate  forms  and  im- 
perceptible degrees. 

56  SNAKES. 

Some  other  general  characteristics  of  the  Ophidia  are  that 
all  are  carnivorous,  catching  their  prey  alive;  all  are  ovipar- 
ous ;  and  in  organization  and  intelligence  they  rank  between 
birds  and  fishes, — higher  than  fishes  in  having  lungs,  and 
lower  than  birds,  which  are  warm-blooded  animals.  Theirheart 
is  so  formed  as  to  send  only  a  portion  of  blood  to  the  lungs 
on  each  contraction  of  it ;  their  temperature,  therefore,  is  that 
of  the  surrounding  atmosphere  (see  p.  142).  Their  normal 
condition,  particularly  that  of  the  venomous  species,  is  one 
of  lethargic  repose  and  indolence,  with  a  disposition  to 
retreat  and  hide,  rather  than  to  obtrude  themselves.  On 
this  account,  and  also  because  so  many  of  them  are  nocturnal 
in  their  habits,  less  has  been  truly  known  of  serpents  than 
of  most  other  creatures,  prejudice  having  added  to  a  pre- 
vailing indifference  regarding  them.  The  duration  of  their 
lives  is  uncertain,  or  whether  they  have  a  stated  period  of 
growth.  Some  naturalists  think  they  grow  all  their  lives  ; 
but  this  must  not  be  taken  literally,  or  that  if  a  small  snake 
happened  to  escape  dangers,  and  live  a  very  long  while, 
it  would  acquire  the  dimensions  of  a  python.  Some  think 
that  formerly  the  constrictors  did  attain  more  formidable 
proportions  than  those  of  the  present  day. 

Snakes  have  small  brains,  slight  intelligence,  and  slow 
sensations,  amounting  almost  to  insensibility  to  pain.  They 
can  live  a  long  while  without  their  brains  and  without  their 
heart ;  while  the  latter,  if  taken  from  the  body,  will  con- 
tinue its  pulsations  for  a  considerable  time.  Also  if  the 
head  be  severed,  the  body  will  for  a  certain  time  continue 
to  move,  coil,  and  even  spring,  and  the  head  will  try  to 
bite,  and  the  tongue  dart  out  as  in  life. 


Persons  who  dislike  snakes  continually  ask,  *  What  is  the 
use  of  them  ? '  That  they  are  not  without  a  use  will,  I 
hope,  appear  in  the  course  of  this  work,  were  it  necessary  to 
preach  that  all  things  have  their  use.  But  In  one  habit 
that  offended  Lord  Baton,  viz.  of  'going  on  their  belly,' 
lies  one  of  their  greatest  uses,  because  that,  together  with 
their  internal  conformation  and  external  covering,  enables 
them  to  penetrate  where  no  larger  carnivorous  animal  could 
venture,  into  dense  and  noisome  morasses,  bogs,  jungles, 
swamps,  amid  the  tangled  vegetation  of  the  tropics,  where 
swarms  of  the  lesser  reptiles,  on  which  so  many  of  them 
feed,  would  otherwise  outbalance  the  harmony  of  nature, 
die,  and  produce  pestilences.  Wondrously  and  exquisitel}' 
constmcted  for  their  habitat,  they  are  able  to  exist  where 
the  higher  animals  could  not ;  and  while  they  help  to  clear 
those  inaccessible  places  of  the  lesser  vermin,  they  them- 
selves supply  food  for  a  number  of  the  smaller  mammalia, 
which,  with  many  carnivorous  birds,  devour  vast  numbers 
of  young  snakes.  The  hedgehog,  weasel,  ichneumon,  rat, 
peccary,  badger,  hog,  goat,  and  an  immense  number  of 
birds  keep  snakes  within  due  limits,  while  the  latter  per- 
form their  part  among  the  grain-devouring  and  herbivorous 
lesser  creatures.  Thus  beautifully  is  the  balance  of  nature 

Dr.  Kirtland,  an  eminent  naturalist  of  Ohio,  who  lived 
at  a  time  when  that  State  was  being  very  rapidly  settled, 
namely,  during  the  early  and  middle  part  of  the  present 
century,  observed  a  great  Increase  of  certain  snakes  as  game 
birds  which  fed  on  them  decreased.  The  latter  were,  of 
course,  in  request  for  the  market,  and  the  snakes,  the  '  black 



snake '  particularly,  having  fewer  enemies  to  consume  him, 
flourished  accordingly.  It  would  be  worth  while  to  ascer- 
tain whether  the  farmer  in  Ohio  had  reason  to  rejoice  over 
this  redundancy  of  rat  and  vermin  consumers.  At  the 
present  time,  when  so  much  of  the  land  is  under  cultivation, 
snakes  have  decreased  again  through  human  agency. 



CAN  we  correctly  say  that  snakes  have  a  *  taste '  for 
eggs  ?  What  flavour  can  there  be  in  an  egg-shell, 
and  what  pleasure  or  gratification  can  a  snake  derive  from 
swallowing  a  hard,  round,  tasteless,  apparently  odourless, 
and  inconvenient  mass  like  a  large  ^gg  ? 

That  snakes  do  devour  eggs  and  swallow  them  whole, 
though  the  fact  is  often  questioned  in  zoological  journals,  is 
well  known  in  countries  where  snakes  abound.  Therefore, 
we  are  led  to  consider  by  what  extraordinaiy  insight  or 
perception  a  snake  discovers  that  this  uncompromising 
solid  contains  suitable  food  }  Avoiding,  as  snakes  do  as 
a  rule,  all  dead  or  even  motionless  food,  it  is  the  more 
surprising  that  eggs  should  prove  an  exception.  And  not 
merely  the  small  and  soft-shelled  eggs  of  little  birds,  that 
can  be  got  easily  into  the  mouth  and  swallowed,  but  the 
eggs  of  poultry  and  the  larger  birds,  which  must  in  the  first 
place  be  difficult  to  grasp,  and  in  the  second  place  to 
which  the  jaws  so  wonderfully  adjust  themselves  that  the 
Qgg  passes  down  entire  into  the  stomach. 

6o  SNAKES. 

Many  snakes  which  do  not  habitually  live  in  trees,  will 
climb  them  in  search  of  birds'  eggs ;  and  many  others,  not 
so  agile  in  climbing,  consume  vast  numbers  of  eggs  from  the 
nests  of  birds  which  build  upon  the  ground.  In  countries 
where  snakes  are  numerous  and  population  sparse,  their 
depredations  in  the  poultry-yards  of  secluded  residences 
are  of  common  occurrence.  And  it  is  a  noteworthy  fact 
that  the  crawling  culprits  possess  an  excellent  memory  for 
the  localities  of  hens'  nests,  so  that  when  once  the  eggs 
have  been  missing,  and  the  snake's  tracks  discovered,  the 
farm-hands  well  know  that  the  offence  will  be  repeated, 
and  watch  for  the  thief,  to  whom  no  mercy  is  shown. 
But  between  their  virtues  as  mousers  and  their  vices  as 
egg-thieves,  an  American  farmer  does  sometimes  hesitate  in 
destroying  certain  non-venomous  snakes,  and  may  occasion- 
ally feel  disposed  to  save  his  crops,  to  the  sacrifice  of  his 
wife's  poultry-yard. 

A  gentleman,  long  a  resident  in  India,  informed  me  that 
a  cobra  once  got  through  a  chink  into  his  hen-house,  and 
ate  so  many  eggs  from  under  a  sitting  hen,  that  it  could 
not  effect  its  exit  through  the  same  chink,  and  so  remained 
half  in  and  half  out,  where  the  next  morning  it  was  dis- 
covered in  a  very  surfeited  condition.  It  was  immediately 
killed  and  cut  open,  when,  as  the  eggs  were  found  to  be 
unbroken  and  still  warm,  the  experiment  was  tried  of 
replacing  them  under  the  mother,  who  in  due  time  hatched 
the  brood  none  the  worse  for  this  singular  '  departure '  in 
their  process  of  incubation. 

In  another  poultry-yard  a  cobra  was  found  coiled  in  a 
hen's  nest,  from  which  all  the  eggs  were  gone  but  two.     In 


this  case,  also,  the  snake  had  swallowed  more  than  it  could 
conveniently  manage,  but  either  alarm,  capture,  or  greediness 
so  impaired  its  digestion  that  all  the  eggs  were  ejected  entire  ! 

A  similar  incident  was  recorded  in  the  Field  newspaper, 
in  May  1867,  the  editor  introducing  the  narrator  as  one  of 
undoubted  intelligence  and  veracity. 

His  gardener  informed  him  that  a  cobra  had  attacked  a 
guinea-fowl's  nest  in  the  compound.  He  took  his  gun  and 
repaired  immediately  to  the  spot,  where  he  saw  the  cobra 
making  off,  followed  by  a  host  of  screaming  fowls.  The 
gentleman  shot  the  culprit  through  the  head,  and  then 
observed  a  tumour-like  swelling,  as  of  an  ^^^  recently 
swallowed.  The  gardener  cut  the  reptile  open,  and  took 
out  the  Q^g^  safe  and  sound.  The  gentleman  marked  the 
<^gg>  and  set  it  with  fourteen  others  under  a  guinea-fowl. 
In  due  time  the  young  chick  was  hatched  ;  and  this  he  also 
marked,  in  order  to  observe  whether  it  would  grow  up  a 
healthy  bird,  which  it  did. 

Several  other  well-authenticated  instances  of  this  nature 
micfht  be  related  :  but  those  who  have  friends  or  relatives 
in  India  are  no  doubt  sufficiently  familiar  with  such  stories 
to  dispense  with  them  here. 

Aware  of  a  cobra's  penchant  for  eggs,  the  snake-catchers, 
or  those  who  pack  them  for  transportation  to  Europe, 
sometimes  place  a  supply  in  the  cages,  as  convenient  food 
for  the  snakes  during  the  voyage.  The  keeper  of  the 
Ophidarium  ^  at  the  London  Zoological  Gardens  frequently 

^  I  have  ventured  lo  coin  this  word  for  the  cages  and  buildings  likely  to 
be  required  in  parks  and  gardens  for  pet  snakes,  so  notably  growing  in 

62  SNAKES. 

finds  hens'  eggs  unbroken  on  opening  a  case  containing  the 
newly-arrived  cobras.  How  many  eggs  were  originally  in 
the  box,  and  how  many  had  been  eaten  and  digested,  or 
reproduced  during  the  voyage,  it  would  be  interesting  to 
ascertain  if  possible. 

Snakes  are  fastidious  feeders  and  long  fasters  during 
confinement.  Those  cobras  may  have  fasted  during  the 
whole  journey,  or  they  may  have  swallowed  and  disgorged 
the  eggs  through  terror,  like  their  friends  at  home.  Two 
things  are  clear,  viz.  that  the  eggs  were  deposited  in  the 
cage  as  a  favourite  delicacy,  and  that  a  hen's  egg  is  not 
a  too  cumbrous  morsel  for  even  the  small-headed  cobra  to 

A  gentleman,  accustomed  to  snakes,  on  hearing  of  this, 
regarded  the  eggs  found  intact  in  the  box  as  a  proof  against 
their  egg-eating  propensities,  and  pointed  to  the  Ophlophagus 
which,  for  lack  of  his  ordinary  food  one  winter,  had  in  vain 
been  tempted  with  both  pigeons'  and  hens'  eggs.  *  He 
won't  eat  them,  he  won't  notice  them,'  was  the  keeper's 
testimony;  but,  then,  other  snakes  often  decline  food,  even 
their  habitual  and  favourite  food,  when  In  confinement ;  and 
so  far  as  the  Indian  snakes  are  concerned,  their  egg-eating 
habits  are  confirmed  by  many  writers,  including  Sir  Joseph 
Fayrer,  w^ho  afiirms  that  '  they  will  eat  and  swallow  the 
eggs  whole.'  *  Snakes  are  all  carnivorous,  existing  on 
animals  and  birds'  eggs,'  he  again  remarks.^  *  Cobras  rob 
hen-roosts,  and  swallow  the  eggs  whole.'  ^ 

And  does  not  the  very  fact  of  the  eggs  being  placed  in 
the  cages  by  the  natives  for  their  food  during  a  journey, 

1  Thanatcphidia  of  India,  1st  ed.  1872.  '^  Ih.  2d  ed.  p.  6.      1874. 


show  that  these  latter  knew  what  would  be  most  likely  to 
tempt  them  ? 

The  Indian  vernacular  of  the  Ophiophagus  is  StinkercJior, 
which  means,  as  Fayrer  tells  us,  '  a  breaker  of  shells.'  I 
have  taken  some  pains  to  ascertain  a  more  definite  reason 
for  this  name  being  assigned  to  the  Ophiophagus,  or  snake- 
eater,  but  without  success.  Is  it  because  he  is  an  exception 
to  the  rule  of  eggs  being  swallowed  zvhole,  he  having  for 
his  size  a  particularly  small  mouth  and  swallow ;  and  that 
he,  like  his  relatives  the  cobras,  being  unwilling  to  relinquish 
the  dainty,  manages  them  clumsily,  and  breaks  the  shells  .^ 
There  must  be  some  reason  for  his  being  known  as  the 
'  shell-breaker.* 

Being  a  tree  snake,  it  may  be  that  '  Sunkerchor,'  the 
shell-breaker,  attempts  the  smaller  birds'  eggs,  which  are 
too  tender  to  be  swallowed  without  fracture. 

The  cobra-worshipping  Hindus  on  their  festivals  place 
eggs  for  their  gods,  that  they  also  may  partake  of  the  feast. 

But  examples  of  egg-eating  snakes  are  not  confined  to 
India.  America,  the  Cape  colonies,  and  all  snake  countries 
are  prolific  of  them. 

Mr.  P.  H.  Gosse  in  Jamaica  killed  a  yellow  boa  {Chilobothrus 
inornahis)^  inside  of  which  he  found  seven  unbroken  hen's 
eggs.     It  had  been  caught  in  a  rat  trap. 

Catesby,  the  early  American  naturalist,  in  describing  the 
corn-coloured  snake,  says  '  it  is  harmless  except  as  a  robber 
of  hens'  roosts.'  Lawson,  the  still  earlier  traveller,  in  his 
quaint  description  of  the  'Racer,'  or  'black  snake'  {Coluber 
constrictor),  says  : — '  He  is  an  excellent  Egg  Merchant,  for  he 
does  not  suck  the  Eggs,  but  swallows  them  whole.     He  will 

64  SNAKES. 

often  swallow  all  the  Eggs  from  under  a  Hen  that  sits,  and 
coil  himself  under  the  Hen  in  the  nest,  where  sometimes  the 
Housewife  finds  him.'  Lawson,  also,  describes  the  '  Egg  and 
Chicken  Snake'  (a  doubtful  vernacular),  'so  called  because  it  is 
frequent  about  the  Hen-Yard,  and  eats  Eggs  and  Chickens.' 
The  early  American  settlers  guarded  their  poultry-yards 
against  snakes  as  vigilantly  as  against  rats,  foxes,  and  other 
such  predators.  As  for  the  *  black  snake,'  though  non- 
venomous,  all  rearers  of  poultry  visit  him  with  vengeance. 

Often  in  our  rambles  through  the  woods  in  Virginia  we 
saw  these  snakes,  and  the  swiftness  with  which  they  would 
vanish  through  the  grass  like  a  flash  of  steel,  proved  how 
well  they  merited  their  name  of  '  Racer.'  These  are  the 
'black  snakes'  par  excellence,  in  distinction  to  the  black 
water-viper  and  several  other  kinds  which  have  more  or 
less  black  about  them.  Sometimes  they  lay  basking  in 
our  path,  probably  after  a  meal,  when  they  become  sleepy 
and  inactive.  On  one  such  occasion  I  had  an  excellent 
opportunity  of  examining  one  of  them,  and  of  measuring  it. 
It  was  exactly  six  feet  long,  and  in  the  largest  part  as  thick 
as  a  man's  arm.  Its  scales  were  beautifully  bright,  like  an 
armour  of  steel,  the  white  throat  and  pale  under  tints  com- 
pleting the  resemblance  of  polished  metal.  It  was  sleeping 
on  a  soft  carpet  of  moss  and  grass  which  bordered  our  sandy 
path,  and  which  showed  the  Racer  to  great  advantage.  My 
young  companion,  a  Virginian  boy  to  whom  no  sport  came 
amiss,  espied  it  with  delight,  and  ran  to  pick  up  a  stout  stick. 
Knowing  that  it  was  harmless,  and  so  excellent  a  mouser, 
I  pleaded  for  its  life ;  for  in  truth  the  nocturnal  visitors  in 
the  shape  of  rats  at   our  country   dwelling  were  so  noisy 


and  numerous,  that  I  regarded  the  Racer  as  a  friend  rather 
to  be  encouraged  and  domesticated  than  ruthlessly  slain. 
Its  couch  now,  in  its  spring  green  and  freshness,  was 
enamelled  with  the  star-like  partridge-berry  {Mitchclla 
repens),  dotted  here  and  there  with  twin  coral  berries 
that  had  lingered  through  the  winter;  the  bright-leaved, 
white  -  flowered  winter  green  {ChimapJiila  macidata)  ;  the 
Bluets  {Oldenlandia purpurea),  and  other  exquisite  little  flowers 
too  lovely  to  be  crushed  and  tainted  ;  while  a  sunbeam  glanc- 
ing through  the  trees,  and  showing  up  the  polished  scales  of 
the  unconscious  Racer,  all  seemed  eloquent  with  mercy. 

It  was  the  first  time  I  had  been  close  enough  to  touch  so 
large  a  snake  ;  and  the  whole  scene  is  vividly  before  me  now. 
Culprit  though  it  might  be,  it  was  splendid  and  beautiful ; 
and  I  entreated  Johnny  to  wait  and  wake  it  up,  so  that 
we  might  watch  its  actions. 

*  All  very  fine ! '  cried  the  boy,  not  yet  in  his  teens,  *  and 
fourteen  more  eggs  gone  from  the  hen-house  last  night ! ' 

So  he  pounced  upon  a  fallen  bough,  which  he  rapidly 
trimmed  to  suit  his  purpose,  then  with  one  sharp  blow 
across  the  poor  thing's  back,  disabled  it.  I  think  the 
snake  was  quite  killed  by  the  blows  the  boy  subsequently 
dealt,  for  I  do  not  remember  that  it  moved  at  all. 

*  Now  you  can  look  at  it  as  much  as  you  please,'  said  the 
juvenile  sportsman  as  he  straightened  the  reptile  out  to  its 
full  length.  Then  I  examined  and  measured  it,  and  found 
it  was  more  than  two  lengths  of  my  long-handled  parasol. 
Black  creatures  with  two  hands  and  two  legs  were  far  more 
likely  to  be  the  egg-stealers  than  that  poor  Racer  far  oft"  in 
the  woods. 



This  'black  snake'  climbs  trees  with  ease,  and  hangs 
from  a  branch  to  reach  a  nest  below  him.  *  He  is  the 
nimblest  creature  living/  says  an  old  writer  on  Virginia, 
for  he  not  only  has  the  credit  of  stealing  hens'  eggs,  but 
he  'even  swallows  the  eggs  of  small  birds,  without 
breaking  them,'  which  again  is  a  proof  of  the  remarkable 
control  these  creatures  possess  of  regulating  the  pressure  of 
their  powerful  jaws. 

Many  of  the  African  snakes  climb  trees,  and  also  suspend 
themselves  from  a  branch  while  reaching  into  a  bird's  nest 
lower  down  for  the  eggs  it  may  contain.  Both  Livingstone 
and  Dr.  Andrew  Smith  ^  make  particular  mention  of  some 
of  the  egg-eating  snakes  of  South  Africa,  the  latter  in  his 
general  description  of  ophidians  stating  that  '  many,  perhaps 
all  snakes,  devour  eggs  when  they  have  an  opportunity.  A 
few  feed  entirely  on  eggs,'  notably  some  of  the  small  tree 
snakes,  to  which  the  name  Oligodon  (few  teeth)  has  been 
given,  this  family  having  no  teeth  on  the  palate,  like  all 
other  snakes.  Their  food,  therefore,  cannot  be  of  a  nature 
to  require  a  very  strong  grasp,  though  we  have  no  authority 
for  stating  that  the  Oligodons  feed  exclusively  on  eggs. 

There  is,  however,  one  of  the  family  with  a  dentition  so 
remarkable  that  it  has  been  considered  a  distinct  type,  and 
Dr.  Andrew  Smith,  who  was  the  first  to  observe  its  habits, 
gave  it  the  generic  name  of  Anodon  (toothless),  the  jaws 
being  merely  roughened  with  the  rudiments  of  teeth.  This 
little  snake,  of  about  two  feet  in  length,  is  exclusively  an 
Ggg  -  feeder.  '  Its  business,'  says  Professor  Owen  in  his 
Odontography,  'is  to  restrain  the  undue  increase  of  small 

1  Zoology  of  Sottth  Africa^  by  Dr.  A,  Smith.     1849. 


birds  by  devouring  their  eggs.'  Its  remarkable  organization 
is  favourable  for  the  passage  of  these  thin-shelled  eggs 
unbroken  until  far  back  in  the  throat  or  gullet,  when  the 
egg  comes  in  contact  with  certain  '  gular  teeth,'  which 
then  break  the  shell  without  any  loss  of  the  contents  to 
the  feeder.  These  gular  teeth  are  a  curious  modification  of 
some  of  the  spinal  processes,  presenting  a  singular  anomaly 
in  the  presence  of  points  of  enamel  on  the  extremity  of  some 
of  them. 

Professor  Owen  has  very  fully  described  this  remarkable 
development,^  and  as  his  works  have  been  the  text-books 
of  many  later  physiologists,  his  words  may  here  be  quoted, 
even  at  the  risk  of  repetition. 

*  In  the  rough  tree  snake,  Deirodon  scaber,  with  256  verte- 
brae, a  hypapophysis — from  l^xh  (Latin,  s?ib),  an  offshoot  from 
beneath — projects  from  the  32  anterior  ones,  which  are 
directed  backwards  in  the  first  ten,  and  incline  forwards  in 
the  last  ten,  where  they  are  unusually  long,  and  tipped  with 
a  layer  of  hard  cement  (dentine).  These  perforate  the 
dorsal  parietes  of  the  oesophagus,  and  serve  as  teeth. 

'Those  who  are  acquainted  with  the  habits  and  food  of 
this  species  have  shown  how  admirably  this  apparent  defect 
— viz.  the  lack  of  teeth — is  adapted  to  its  well-being.  Now, 
if  the  teeth  had  existed  of  the  ordinary  form  and  proportions 
in  the  maxillary  and  palatal  regions,  the  Qgg  must  have 
been  broken  as  soon  as  it  was  seized,  and  much  of  the 
nutritious  contents  would  have  escaped  from  the  lipless 
mouth  ;  but  owing  to  the  almost  edentulous  state  of  the 
jaws,  the  egg  glides  along  the  expanded  mouth  unbroken, 

^  Odontography^  by  Richard  Owen,  1840,  and  Anatovty  of  the  Vertebrates,  1866. 



and  not  until  it  has  reached  the  gullet,  and  the  closed 
mouth  prevents  the  escape  of  any  of  the  nutritious  matter, 
is  it  exposed  to  the  instruments  adapted  to  its  perforation. 
These  instruments  consist  of  the  inferior  spinous  processes/ 
etc.,  already  described.  *  They  may  be  readily  seen  even 
in  very  small  subjects,  in  the  interior  of  that  tube  in  which 
their  points  are  directed  backwards.  The  shell  being  sawed 
open  longitudinally  by  these  vertebral  teeth,  the  Qgg  is 
crushed  by  the  contractions  of  the  gullet,  and  is  carried  to 
the  stomach,  where  the  shell  is  no  doubt  soon  dissolved  by 
the  acid  gastric  juice.' 

Portion     of     spine    of     the  Gular  teeth  penetrating 

Deirodon,  from  Andrew  Smith's       into  the  gullet,  ib. 
Zoology  0/ South  Africa. 

Portion  of  spine  from  a 
skeleton  at  the  museum  of 
the  R.  C.  S.,  natural  size. 

The  two  from  Smith's  Zoology  must  be  much  magnified ; 
the  third,  from  the  skeleton,  being  the  true  size,  excepting 
that  the  ribs  are  broken  short  off,  some  entirely  so.  The 
minute  processes  extend  two  or  more  inches. 

As  the  learned  professor  has  described  the  Deirodon  (neck- 
toothed)  both  under  the  head  of  teeth,  and  also  of  verte- 
brated  animals,  the  two  accounts  are  blended,  but  given 
verbatim  as  far  as  possible. 


The  colour  of  the  Deirodon  is  of  a  brightish  or  yellowish 
brown,  very  minutely  spotted  with  white.  Such  few  true 
teeth  as  some  individuals  may  possess  are  extremely  small 
and  conical,  discovered  only  towards  the  angle  of  the  mouth. 

Dr.  Andrew  Smith  first  examined  a  specimen  in  1829, 
when  he  found  that  the  gular  teeth  commence  exactly  2\ 
inches  behind  the  apex  of  the  lower  jaw,  and  penetrate  the 
cesophagal  canal  through  small  holes  in  its  tunics,  and  that 
each  point  is  armed  with  enamel.  He  had  observed  that 
the  living  specimens  which  he  had  in  captivity  always,  when 
feeding,  retained  the  ^g'g  stationary  about  two  inches  from 
their  head,  and  while  there,  used  great  efforts  to  crush  it. 
Dissecting  a  specimen  in  order  to  investigate  this  strange 
action,  he  discovered  the  gular  teeth  just  where  the  Q.g<g  had 
stopped,  and  which,  he  felt  satisfied,  had  assisted  in  fixing 
it  there,  and  also  in  breaking  the  shell  when  subjected  to 
the  muscular  action  of  the  surrounding  parts.  The  gular 
teeth  are  developed  in  very  young  Deirodons. 

Dr.  Smith  saw  that  the  broken  shell  was  ejected,  while 
the  fluid  contents  were  conveyed  onwards  ;  but  this  may 
have  been  an  exceptional  case,  because  by  a  snake  in 
health  egg-shells  are  easily  digested.  Probably  those  snakes 
watched  by  Dr.  A.  Smith  being  captives,  and  presumably 
not  altogether  as  happy  and  healthy  as  in  their  sylvan 
homes,  found  the  shells  too  much  for  them,  and  so  ejected 
them  ;  as  the  cobras  above  described  disgorged  the  stolen 
eggs.  This  habit  of  disgorging  food  appears  to  be  some- 
times voluntary. 

Snakes  have  been  known  to  pass  the  (tg^  through  their 
body  entire,  but  this  also   must  be  owing  to  an  abnormal 

70  SNAKES. 

state  of  health  or  of  habit,  as  the  strong  juices  of  the 
stomach,  which  can  convert  even  bones  and  horn  to  nutri- 
ment, ordinarily  dissolve  an  egg-shell. 

Throughout  nature  we  find  that,  whatever  the  habits  of 
the  creature  may  be,  its  structure  and  capacities  are  adapted 
to  it.  Every  need  is,  as  it  were,  anticipated  in  the  process 
of  development ;  and  wherever,  as  in  this  harmless  little 
tree  snake,  we  find  a  departure  from  general  rules,  it  is 
because  some  especial  requirements  are  met,  and  in  order 
that  the  creature  may  be  the  better  prepared  for  the  struggle 
for  existence.  In  the  present  example  we  find  a  marvellous 
adaptation  of  spine  bones  to  dental  purposes  ;  how  many 
ages  it  has  taken  to  develop  them  we  cannot  conjecture. 
All  we  know  is  that  these  spinal  projections  are  just  the 
sort  of  teeth  that  the  egg-swallower  requires,  and  that 
its  natural  teeth  are  gradually  becoming  obsolete  from 

A  writer  who  was  quoted  at  some  length  in  the  Zoologist 
for  1875,  and  in  several  other  contemporary  journals,  stated 
that  some  snakes  '  suck  out  the  contents  of  hen's  eggs  by 
making  a  hole  at  the  end.' ' 

We  are  not  told  with  what  instrument  these  evidently 
scientific  serpents  punctured  the  shell.  Some  skill  is  required, 
as  schoolboys  give  us  to  understand,  to  prick  an  egg-shell 
without  breaking  it ;  and  even  when  the  hole  is  bored, 
additional  care  is  required  to  suck  out  the  contents.  How 
a  snake  could  first  grasp  firmly,  and  then  puncture  a  fowl's 
^gg,  is  incomprehensible;  how  the  sucking  process  is  achieved 

^  Aa/ural  Hisiory  Notes  from  South  Africa,  by  R.  B.  and  J.  D.  S.  Woodward. 
Lend.  1874. 


is  still  more  so.  We  can  understand  that  a  snake  which 
discovered  a  broken  egg  might  seem  to  lap  some  of  the 
contents,  because,  as  we  shall  by  and  by  show,  the  tongue 
habitually  investigates,  and  is  immediately  in  requisition  under 
all  circumstances.  But  to  lap  up  an  egg  would  be  a  very 
slow  process  for  so  slender  an  instrument.  One  is  reminded 
of  the  dinner  which  Sir  Reynard  invited  his  friend  the 
Stork  to  partake  with  him. 

While  still  marvelling  over  these  South  African  egg- 
suckers,  I  watched  some  lizards  with  a  broken  egg  in  their 
cage.  Their  tongues  were  long,  thin,  blade-like,  and  bifid, 
much  better  adapted  for  the  purpose  of  lapping  than  that 
of  a  snake,  yet  stupidly  slow  and  inefficient  was  this  ribbon- 
like tongue.  The  lizards  threw  it  out,  spatula-fashion,  into 
the  midst  of  the  pool  of  egg  which  was  spreading  itself  over 
the  floor,  and  caught  whatever  of  the  fluid  adhered  to  it. 
Had  the  lizards  possessed  lips  adapted  for  such  a  purpose, 
and,  in  addition,  intelligence  enough  to  'suck,'  they  might 
have  drawn  some  of  the  cohesive  mass  into  their  throats, 
but  they  only  obeyed  their  instinctive  habit  of  lapping. 
Snakes  would  do  the  same.  Their  habit  is  to  moisten  the 
tongue  in  lapping ;  and  I  fear  we  must  not  place  too  much 
credence  in  the  exceptional  intelligence  of  that  South  African 
egg-sucker,  but  rather  regret  the  loose  account  which  con- 
veys so  erroneous  an  impression.  I  watched  those  lizards 
for  many  minutes,  and  decided  that  the  egg  would  be  dried 
up  long  before  it  could  be  consumed  by  lizard-lapping. 

The  tongue  of  a  snake  is  undoubtedly  an  important  and 
highly-developed  organ.  That  its  sensitiveness  assists  the 
smell,  we  have  reason  to  believe,  and  possibly  it  possesses 

72  SNAKES. 

other  faculties  of  which  we  are  at  present  ignorant.  In  the 
case  of  an  unbroken  egg,  for  instance,  the  tongue  has  told 
the  snake  that  there  is  something  good  inside  it ;  and  instinct 
immediately  leads  the  reptile  to  get  the  awkward  mouthful 
between  its  jaws,  which  expand  just  so  far  as  to  retain  it 
safely,  yet  just  so  lightly  that  not  one  of  those  row^s  of  long, 
sharp  teeth  shall  penetrate  the  shell  or  fracture  it  in  the 
slightest  degree.  How  delicate  must  be  the  adjustment 
whereby  those  six  jaws,  all  bristling  w^ith  fine,  needle-like 
teeth,  grasp  and  yet  not  break  the  delicate  shell  !  for,  after 
all,  an  Qgg  is  a  fragile  substance  in  proportion  to  the  size  of 
the  feeder  and  its  muscular  powder. 

Snakes  have  been  known  to  get  choked  in  attempting  to 
swallow  an  cgg^  as  they  have  also  come  to  grief  with  other 
impediments,  such  as  horns  of  cattle  ;  but  this  w^e  must 
attribute  to  their  not  being  able  to  estimate  their  own 
swallowing  capacities,  or  to  some  other  untow-ard  event. 

The  Messrs.  Woodward's  scientific  snake  would  not  have 
crept  into  these  pages  had  it  not  previously  figured  in  the 
Zoologist.dind  thence  copied  in  other  prints,  thereby  misleading 
many  readers.  It  also  proved  a  subject  worth  discussing  by 
thinking  persons,  and  was  alluded  to  very  particularly  by 
an  ophiological  friend  and  publisher  in  a  letter  to  myself, 
which  may  be  here  usefully  quoted.  My  friend,  who  has 
long  stimulated  me  by  his  kind  encouragement  of  my 
work,  and  by  the  assistance  of  his  experience  and  judg- 
ment, was  pleased  to  express  much  interest  in  a  little  paper 
on    the   Deirodon,    which    I    had    written    for  Aiuit  Judys 

^  See  Aunt  Judy's  Magaziney  Aug.    1S74,  London, — 'The  Deirodon,  or  neck- 
toothed  snake.' 


Magazine,  he  having  read  it  shortly  before  the  appearance 
of  the  Messrs.  Woodward's  statement  in  the  Zoologist, 
April  1875  : — 

'  In  this  month's  Zoologist^  wrote  my  friend,  '  a  writer 
says  that  a  certain  snake  makes  havoc  of  the  hen-house,  b}- 
boring  a  hole  in  the  ^g'g  and  sucking  its  contents !  Can 
this  be  true  ?  To  a  letter  of  mine  to  Mr.  Newman  (the  then 
editor  of  the  Zoologist),  on  the  subject,  he  replies,  "With  regard 
to  snakes  eating  eggs,  it  has  been  repeated  so  often  that  I 
cannot  help  fearing  Mr.  Woodward  may  have  imbibed  tJic 
notion  from  American  sotirces.  It  is  so  common  in  the 
United  States  to  find  snakes  in  holes  in  the  bottoms  of  trees 
made  by  woodpeckers,  that  it  seems  almost  impossible  to 
resist  the  conviction  that  they  enter  these  holes  to  get  the 
birds  themselves,  or  their  young,  or  their  eggs.  It  must 
be  regretted  that  those  witnesses  who  come  into  court  with 
such  evidence  are  not,  generally  speaking,  the  kind  of  close 
observers  in  whose  dicta  we  can  place  implicit  reliance." 
This,'  continues  my  correspondent,  '  Mr.  Newman  writes 
after  I  had  suggested  that  some  families  of  snakes  have 
triturating  powers  (learned  from  Annt  Judy)  in  the  throat, 
independent  altogether  of  palatal  teeth.  The  subject  seems 
to  be  as  much  steeped  in  the  unknown,  as  are  the  ways  of 
the  beautiful  creatures  themselves.' 

This  from  a  well-known  and  highly-popular  publisher, 
a  man  of  education,  culture,  and  scientific  attainments, 
though  snakes  hitherto  had  not  been  his  specialt)',  any  more 
than  that  of  the  late  editor  of  the  Zoologist.  The  latter,  how- 
ever, admitting  his  doubts  on  the  subject  of  ophidian  egg- 
feeders,  would  have  done  well  to  have  added  a  note  to  that 

74  SNAKES. 

effect  to  the  account  given  by  Mr.  Woodward,  which, 
simply  from  its  appearance  in  a  scientific  journal,  might  be 
received  as  authority. 

A  few  more  well-known  proofs  of  ophidian  taste  for  eggs 
may  conclude  this  chapter.  Of  our  own  green  or  ring 
snake  {Colnher  nairir),  Mr.  Bell  says,  '  It  feeds  upon  young 
birds,  eggs,  and  mice,  but  prefers  frogs.'  In  Balfour's  India, 
on  the  subject  of  cobra-worship,  mention  is  made  of  the 
snakes  getting  into  larders  for  eggs  and  milk,  and  being 
protected  as  the  good  genius  of  the  house  on  such  occasions. 

But  the  Hindu  custom  of  placing  eggs  for  snakes  at  their 
serpent  festivals  must  be  too  familiar  to  most  of  my  readers 
to  need  further  comment. 



PERHAPS  in  no  other  branch  of  natural  history  has 
such  a  degree  of  interest  been  awakened  during 
the  last  decade,  and  such  an  advance  made  as  in  ophiology. 
The  result  of  a  spirit  of  inquiry  thus  set  afloat  is  that 
information  is  being  continually  elicited  from  travellers  and 
observers.  Those  who  now  entertain  predilections  for  this 
branch  of  science,  will  many  of  them  admit  that  whatever 
interest  they  feel  in  the  subject  has  been  of  a  comparatively 
recent  date  ;  that  since  they  have  at  all  studied  snake  nature, 
they  have  repeatedly  had  to  combat  with  preconceived 
notions.  Again  and  again  they  have  been  'surprised  to 
learn  that  so-and-so ' — some  now  established  fact,  perhaps — 
is  the  case,  when  they  had  ' akuays  thought' — probably 
something  quite  the  contrary. 

This  has  been  frequently  verified  in  my  own  experience 
in  my  correspondence  with  really  scholarly  men,  who  have 
generously  admitted  as  much.  Not  a  few,  during  my  ten 
years'  study  of  the  Ophidia,  have  traced  their  interest  in 
snakes  to  my  own  enthusiasm.     Preconceived  errors  are  not 


76  SN-AKES. 

to  be  wondered  at  when  we  consider  that,  apart  from  scientific 
works,  so  much  that  has  been  related  of  serpents  has  been 
mingled  with  prejudice,  fable,  and  tradition,  clouding  our 
intelligence  at  the  very  outset.  Nor  need  we  hesitate  in 
admitting  our  misconceptions,  when  we  find  scientific  men 
themselves  devoting  page  after  page  to  a  mooted  question, 
and  after  all,  sometimes  venturing  to  sum  up  a  given  sub- 
ject with  a  modest  doubt  only.  (Would  that  the  less  scientific 
writers  were  equally  cautious  in  their  statements!)  Whether 
snakes  drink,  and  7vhat  they  drink,  have  been  among  these 
debated  questions. 

Those  who  possess  a  love  for  natural  history  are,  of  course, 
acquainted  with  the  works  of  the  eminent  naturalist.  Dr. 
Thomas  Bell,  on  our  native  fauna ;  and  those  who  admit 
their  Interest  in  the  much-maligned  snakes  have  Included  in 
their  studies  his  British  Reptiles.^  In  one  portion  of  that 
work,  where  science  Is  so  charmingly  blended  with  personal 
observations,  we  are  carried  on  to  the  heaths  and  commons 
to  watch  our  pretty  little  agile  lizards  skim  across  the  grass, 
and  flit  away  with  legs  too  fleet  for  us  to  follow  them. 

We  linger  on  the  banks  of  a  stream  where  a  ring  snake 
lies  In  wait  for  a  frog ;  and  then  we  are  conducted  Into  Mr. 
Bell's  study,  where  the  same  harmless  creature,  now  tamed, 
is  nestling  In  his  sleeve,  or  lapping  milk  from  his  hand. 

Most  of  my  readers  also,  whether  naturalists  or  not,  are 
familiar  with  some  of  the  numerous  works  on  India,  its 
creeds,  customs,  and  superstitions,  where  mention  Is  so 
frequently  made  of  cobra- worship,  and  of  the  natives 
setting  saucers  of  milk  near  Its  hole  to  conciliate  and  pro- 

^  British  Reptiles,  by  Thomas  Bell,  F.L.S.,  etc.     1849. 


pitiate  the  serpent.     Familiar  to  us  all,  too,  is  the  picture 

of  a  little  child  with  a  bowl  of  milk  on  its  lap,  and  a  snake 

receiving  a  tap  with  the  spoon   to  check  the  too  greedy 

intrusion  of  its  head  into  the  bowl,  but  into  which,  according 

to  the  story,  it  had  been  accustomed  and  permitted  to  dip 

its  tongue.     Some  persons  place  that  story  in  Wales  ;  others, 

and  with  better  reason,  trace  it  to  New  England.     The  child 

and  its  surroundings,  the  size  of  the  snake,  all  justify  this 

latter  belief,  and  that  the   intruder  is  the  notorious  milk- 

stealer  so  common  in  the  United  States,  the  'black  snake,' 

or  Racer  (introduced  p.  64). 

In  the  face  of  these  well-known  facts,  it  may  seem  strange 

to  propose  the  question,  '  Do  snakes  ever  drink } '  and  still 

stranger  to   affirm    that   this   was   lately  a   disputed    point 

among  some  of  our  scientific  writers.     '  On  s'ignore,'  says 

Schlegel,  'si  les  serpents  boivent,  et   s'il   est  juste  d'opiner 

pour  la  negative ;  toutefois  on  n'a  jamais  apergu  des  fluides 

dans  ceux  dont  on  a  examine  I'estomac'  ^ 

Schlegel,  when  he  wrote,  had  not  the  benefit  of  Mr.  Bell's 

experience,  and  as  a  foreigner,  probably  he  had  not  read 

Jesse's  Gleanings  nor  White's  Selborne ;  nor,  as  a  scientific 

student,  had  he  time  to  bestow  on  promiscuous  works  on 

India,  which,  by  the  way,  were  not  so  numerous  then  as 

now.     But  there  are  several  well-known  milk-drinking  snakes 

in  America  w^hich   had   been  described  by  writers  prior  to 

Schlegel.      This   learned   author,   however,  puts   down   the 

milk-loving   snakes   among  the   'fables'    and    'prejudices;' 

and,   as   we  have  seen,  dismissed    the  water-drinkers  with 

a  doubt. 

'  Physiognoinie  dcs  serpents^  p.  97.      Par  H.  Schlegel.     Amsterdam,  1837. 

78  SNAKES. 

Mr.  Bell's  work  has  enjoyed  upwards  of  thirty  years' 
popularity,  and  his  milk-drinking  pet  has  been  quoted  by 
scores  of  writers  of  both  adult  and  juvenile  books.  Thomas 
Bell,  F.L.S.,  F.G.S.,  was  secretary  to  the  Royal  Society ; 
Professor  of  Zoology  of  King's  College,  London ;  and  one 
of  the  Council  of  the  Zoological  Society  of  London.  He 
was  also  a  '  corresponding  member '  of  the  learned  societies 
of  Paris  and  Philadelphia,  and  of  the  Boston  Society  of 
Natural  History. 

As  a  gentleman  of  widely  recognised  learning  and  veracity, 
therefore,  it  may  be  considered  that  Mr.  Bell,  and  with  good 
reason,  entertained  no  doubt  whatever  as  to  snakes  drinking, 
and  also  drinking  milk.  Mr.  Bell,  moreover,  had  known  of 
the  celebrated  python  at  Paris  (see  chap,  xxiv.),  which  in 
1 84 1  evinced  a  thirstiness  that  has  become  historical  in  all 
zoological  annals.  The  circumstance  was  fully  recorded  by 
M.  Valenciennes  at  the  time ;  when  a  no  less  distinguished 
ophiologist  than  M.  Dumeril,^  Professeur  d' Erpetologie  an 
Musce  a  Paris,  was  especially  appointed  to  the  management 
of  the  reptile  department  there.  That  very  distinguished 
ophidian  lady,  the  python,  need  be  referred  to  here  only  as 
regards  the  drinking  question,  the  rest  of  her  history  coming 
in  its  place  in  this  book.  It  will  be  remembered  that  she  laid 
eggs,  and  to  the  surprise  of  all,  coiled  herself  upon  them  to 
hatch  them.  *  Pendant  tout  le  temps  d'incubation  la  femelle 
n'a  pas  voulu  manger'  (she  began  to  incubate  on  the  6th 
May)  ;  *  mais  le  25*^  de  mai,  apres  vingt  jours  de  couvaison,  son 
gardien,  Vallee,  homme  tres  soigneux  et  tres  intelligent,  la 
voyant  plus  inquiete  que  de  coutume,  remeuee  la  tete,  et  lui 

^  Annales  des  scieftces  natttrelles,  2d  Series,  tome  xvi.     Paris,  1841. 


presenta  de  I'eau  dans  un  petit  basin  ;  elle  y  plongea  le  bout 
de  son  museau,  et  Tanimal  en  but  avec  avidite  environs 
de  deux  verres.  Elle  a  ensuite  bu  quatre  fois  pendant  le 
reste  du  temps  de  sa  couvaison  :  le  4  juin,  13,  19,  26.'  (Her 
eggs  began  to  hatch  early  in  July.) 

The  interesting  invalid,  ordinarily  tame  and  gentle,  had 
latterly  displayed  anger  and  irritability  on  being  disturbed, 
pushing  away  the  hand  if  touched ;  but  in  her  present  state 
the  want  of  water  was  so  great  that  she  evinced  uneasiness 
to  her  guardian,  and  permitted  him  to  move  and  turn  her 
head,  so  that  she  could  dip  the  end  of  her  muzzle  into  the 
basin.  The  narrator  argued,  from  this  remarkable  demonstra- 
tion, that  the  incubation  (in  which  a  rise  of  temperature 
was  observable)  produced  a  sort  of  feverishness  which  caused 
her  to  decline  solid  food,  though  her  thirst  was  so  great 
that  she  almost  asked  for  drink. 

When  eight  of  the  fifteen  eggs  were  hatched,  the  little 
pythons  ate  nothing  until  after  their  first  moult  (which 
happened  to  them  all  within  a  fortnight),  but  during  those 
early  days  of  their  existence  they  *  drank  several  tiuiesy  and 
also  bathed  themselves.' 

This  event  perhaps  established  the  fact  beyond  any  doubt 
that  snakes  do  drink,  so  far  as  modern  and  scientific  ophio- 
logists  had  ventured  to  decide ;  and  M.  Dumeril,  from  long 
observation,  is  able  to  tell  us  how. 

Speaking  of  the  tongue  of  a  snake,  this  experienced  natu- 
ralist informs  us  that  'cette  langue  fort  longue  sert-elle 
comme  on  I'a  observee  quelque-fois  a  faire  pen^trer  un  pcu 
de  liquide  dans  la  bouche,  car  nous  avons  vu  nous-mcmc  dcs 
couleuvres  laper  ainsi  Teau,  que  nous  avions  placee  auprcs 


d'elles  dans  la  cage,  ou  nous  les  tenions  renfermees  pour  les 
observer  a  loisir.'  ^ 

But,  as  he  goes  on  to  describe,  ^quelques  serpents  avalent 
de  I'eau  sans  se  servir  de  la  langue  pour  laper.  Alors  ils 
tiennent  la  tete  enfoncee  sous  I'eau  au-dessous  du  niveau, 
ils  ecartent  un  peu  les  machoires,  et  font  baisser  le  fond  de 
la  gorge,  dans  laquelle  I'eau  descend  par  son  propres  poids.' 
You  can  then  perceive  the  slight  movements  of  swallow- 
ing, like  a  thirsty  man  gulping  down  a  beverage  {a  la 

What  follows  affords  an  explanation  of  M.  Schlegel's 
statement  that  he  had  never  discovered  water  in  a  snake 
which  he  had  dissected,  this  learned  author  not  having  gone 
so  thoroughly  into  the  matter.  '  Cette  eau,'  says  M.  Dumeril, 
■*  sert  a  laver  les  intestines ;  car  elle  est  rendue  liquide  avec 
les  feces,  elle  ne  parait  pas  expulsde  par  les  voies  urinaires.' 

M.  Dumeril  speaks  very  clearly  on  this  point  both  in 
his  introductory  preface,  and  again  in  vol.  vi.,  under  the 
more  detailed  descriptions  of  each  especial  sense  and  organ. 

Snakes  rarely  drink  (that  is,  not  every  day,  as  most 
animals  do),  most  of  them  living  in  dry  regions  or  forests, 
where  for  long  periods  they  are  deprived  of  water.  The 
live  prey  upon  which  they  subsist  supplies  them  with 
sufficient  liquid.  This  may  be  known  by  the  natural  dis- 
charges, which  are  usually  of  a  liquid  nature.  Nevertheless, 
a  large  number  of  serpents  live  close  to  water,  and  love 
to  plunge  and  to  swim.  These  truly  drink, — lapping  with 
the  tongue,  as  above  described  ;   at  other  times  with  the 

^  Erpetologie  general^  par  MM.   Dumeril  et  Bibron,  tome  i.  p.   136.     Paris, 


head  under  water,  and  the  neck  still  lower,  so  that  the 
water  falls  into  tJie  mouth  by  its  oiun  iceight,  and  is  then 
swallowed.  But  this,  he  repeats,  does  not  go  into  the 
blood,  or  very  little  of  it,  car  ils  roideiit  eii  grand  partie, 
etc.,  as  above,  its  function  being  principally  to  moisten  the 

Lenz,  a  German  ophiologist  of  still  earlier  date  than 
Schlegel,  went  very  conscientiously  into  the  subject  of 
whether  snakes  drink  or  not,^  having  adopted  various  means 
in  order  to  test  them.  His  personal  experience  was,  how- 
ever, of  a  more  limited  range. 

It  is  worth  while  to  bear  in  mind  the  dates  of  some  of 
these  writings,  both  that  we  may  watch  the  gradual  advance 
of  ophidian  knowledge,  and  also  that  we  may  the  better 
appreciate  the  vast  amount  of  time,  care,  labour,  and  research 
by  which  we  are  finally  put  in  possession  of  facts  of  natural 

As  a  comparatively  modern  writer,  Lcnz,  without  doubt, 
made  very  valuable  contributions  to  the  science  of  ophio- 
logy,  and  at  a  time  when  fact  was  only  beginning  to  be 
sifted  from  fable.  It  will  be  seen  that,  thouc^h  writincr 
several  years  before  Schlegel,  he  had  arrived  at  the  same 

'  The  numerous  snakes  and  other  animals  which  inhabit 
arid  mountains,  or  plains  destitute  of  water,  can  only  quench 
their  thirst  with  rain  or  dew.  Snakes  require  but  little 
water  as  long  as  they  live  in  the  open  air.  It  is  an  esta- 
blished rule  that  no  water  is  found  in  the  maw,  stomach, 
or   entrails  of  snakes    killed    in    the   open    air,    even   when 

^  Schlan^cn  it)id  Scldaii-^cji jietut^  jar  II.  O.  Lenz.     (lotha,  1S32. 


82  SNAKES. 

destroyed  by  or  in  a  piece  of  water.  Snakes  are  never  seen 
to  go  to  drhik  in  any  part  of  the  world.' 

This  last  clause  is,  as  we  have  now  seen,  a  too  positive 
assertion,  and  one  not  subsequently  borne  out  by  other 
equally  conscientious  and  intelligent  writers.  Livingstone, 
who  was  a  close  observer  of  nature,  informs  us  that  he  has 
known  some  of  the  African  snakes  come  a  long  zvay  to  pools 
and  7'ivers  to  drink.  Dr.  Theodore  Cantor,  who  is  one  of 
the  best  authorities  on  the  Indian  sea  snakes,  and  who  was 
a  member  of  the  Zoological  Society,  tells  us  that  he  has 
seen  snakes  *  both  drink  and  also  moisten  the  tongue  ;  two 
distinct  operations^  he  explains.^  This  conviction  having 
been  stated  prior  to  Dumeril's  elaborate  and  much-prized 
work,  is  valuable  testimony.  The  majority  of  snakes  in 
India  are  partial  to  water,  he  tells  us,  with  the  exception 
of  the  arboreal  species,  which  probably  obtain  sufficient 
moisture  from  the  rain  or  dew  upon  the  leaves  ;  and  as  it 
is  not  in  their  nature  to  be  on  the  ground,  their  organization 
doubtless  renders  them  independent  of  water. 

We  of  late  so  often  see  it  said  of  any  particular  snakes  in 
captivity  that  '  they  neither  ate  nor  drank  at  first ; '  or  that 
'they  drank,  though  they  would  not  eat,'  that  we  almost 
wonder  their  bibulous  propensities  were  ever  doubted  ; 
especially  as  the  majority  of  snakes  are  fond  of  water,  and 
swim  readily.  We  are  surprised,  therefore,  that  the  second 
edition  of  Mr.  Lenz'  really  valuable  work,  published  so 
lately  as  1870,  should  still  retain  the  assertion  that  snakes 
have  never  been  seen  to  drink. 

'^  Sea  Snakes :   Pelagic  Serpents,   by  Dr.  Theo.  E.  Cantor.      London,   1842. 
Zoological  Society's  TraJisactions,  1841. 


Mr.  Frank  Buckland  saw  his  Coronella  drink  fre- 
quently, though  she  ate  nothing ;  and  as  the  discovery  and 
captivity  of  this  interesting  lady  and  her  brood,  born  in 
London  in  1862,^  formed  the  subject  of  many  papers  in 
the  scientific  journals  at  the  time,  one  would  suppose  that 
they  would  have  been  heard  of  in  Germany,  where  the 
species  {C.  Icevis)  is  well  known. 

'  Though  not  to  be  tempted  with  food,  they  are  very  fond 
of  water,'  says  Mr.  F.  Buckland. 

Lenz'  experiments  are,  however,  well  worth  noticing, 
because  subsequent  observations  have  in  many  instances 
confirmed  this  author's  conclusions. 

'  In  confinement,'  he  says,  *  snakes  are  more  easily  induced 
to  lick  up  drops  sprinkled  on  grass  than  to  drink  from  a 
vessel.'  Naturally  so.  In  their  native  haunts  they  are  not 
accustomed  to  pans  of  water  or  saucers  of  milk,  but  they 
are  accustomed  to  moisten  their  tongues  on  the  blades  of 
grass  or  the  leaves  of  plants  which  hold  the  drops  of  rain 
or  dew.  Lenz  then  mentions  some  experiments  which  he 
himself  made  with  snakes.  He  placed  a  ring  snake  and 
an  adder  in  an  empty  box,  and  kept  them  there  without 
food  for  a  fortnight,  at  the  end  of  which  period  he  placed 
them  in  a  tub  containing  half  an  inch  of  water,  and  left 
them  there  for  half  an  hour.  He  then  killed  them  both, 
and  on  dissection  found  no  water  inside  of  them.  This 
led  him  to  the  conclusion  that  they  had  not  drank  at  all  ; 
but,  in  the  first  place,  had  they  occupied  the  whole  half- 
hour  in  lapping  with  their  thread-like  tongue,  it  may  be 
doubted  whether  any  appreciable  quantit)-  could  be  imbibed 

^  Sec  /vV/t/ newspaper,  September  and  October  1S62.     London. 

84  SNAKES. 

during  that  time ;  and  in  the  second  place,  the  sudden 
transition  and  strange  situation  in  which  they  found  them^ 
selves  would,  through  fright,  entirely  destroy  whatever 
inclination  they  might  have  had  to  appease  hunger  or  thirst. 

It  will  be  seen  that  snakes  are  exceedingly  capricious  in 
taking  food ;  and  that  when  in  an  abnormal  or  strange 
locality  they  rarely  feed  for  a  long  while.  Mr.  Lenz  himself 
is  of  opinion  that,  had  he  left  them  longer  in  the  water,  or 
placed  them  in  a  dry  tub  where  liquid  could  be  got  at, 
they  would  or  might  have  drunk.  Thus,  the  experiments 
only  go  to  corroborate  what  all  keepers  of  snakes  have 
observed,  viz.  that  captivity  or  strange  surroundings  render 
them  averse  to  feed. 

M.  Lenz  placed  his  snakes  among  the  cows  in  order 
to  test  the  foolish  belief  that  obtains  in  some  countries 
that  snakes  will  ^suck'  the  udders;  but  of  course,  and  for 
similar  reasons,  even  could  such  an  achievement  be  possible, 
the  snakes  attempted  no  such  thing. 

His  snakes  were  strict  members  of  a  temperance  society 
also,  for  not  even  wine  could  tempt  them  to  drink,  though 
this  and  other  liquids  were  placed  within  reach  to  entice 
their  taste.  Not  so  Pliny's  snakes,  for  he  would  have  us 
believe  that  they  show  *a  great  liking  for  wine,'  whenever 
an  opportunity  presented  itself  for  their  tasting  it ! 

But  how  came  the  idea  to  obtain  that  snakes  suck  cows, — 
a  fact  so  frequently  asserted  by  the  older  naturalists  .'*  One 
old  writer  goes  so  far  as  to  state  that  a  certain  American 
snake  '  causes  cows  to  give  forth  bloody  milk.'  And  yet,  to 
the  thinking  or  observing  person,  the  origin  of  the  belief 
may  be  easily  accounted  for.     That  snakes  have  partiality 

DO  SNAKES  DRINK  1  '  85 

for  milk  no  longer  admits  of  a  doubt ;  that  they  like  warmth 
and  shelter  is  an  equally  established  fact.  Therefore,  they 
find  their  way  into  cattle-sheds,  and  hide  in  the  straw  or 
any  snug  corner,  possibly  even  among  the  recumbent 
cattle ;  and,  being  there,  their  ever  busy  exploring  tongues 
discover  a  savour  of  milk,  and  the  snake  is  led  by  this 
intelligent  tongue  to  the  very  fountain  of  their  favourite 
drop.  The  irritated  cow  would  then  naturally  stir  or  kick, 
and  endeavour  to  shake  off  the  strange  intruder,  who,  in 
its  turn  alarmed  or  angered,  would  bite  the  udder,  and 
fetch  blood.  This,  in  the  dark  ages  of  natural  history,  and 
during  the  period  when  the  serpent  was  invested  with  all 
manner  of  cruel  and  revolting  wilfulness,  would  suffice  to 
give  rise' to  the  belief  that  has  so  long  prevailed.  The  rat 
snake  {Ptyas  vmcosics)  and  the  ClotJionia  of  India  are  'said* 
to  suck  the  teats  of  cows  ;  so  also  are  the  *  hoop  snake '  and 
several  other  American  species,  which,  with  their  climbing 
propensities,  may  sometimes  twine  themselves  about  the 
legs  of  cattle,  and  thus  reach  the  udders,  where  persons 
have  discovered  them.  It  is  just  possible  that  the  snakes 
may  get  the  teat  into  their  mouths,  and  advance  upon  it, 
with  the  intention  of  swallowing  it,  not  knowing  that  it 
was  only  a  teat,  with  a  cow  inconveniently  attached  to  it, 
and  not  some  small  and  more  manageable  prey. 

Among  the  American  milk-drinking  snakes  is  Coluber 
eximius,  known  as  the  '  milk  snake,'  one  of  the  dairy 
frequenters,  which  is  said  to  seek  milk  with  avidity. 
This    snake    is    mentioned    by   De    Kay,^    Emmons,^   and 

1  Zoology  of  New  York,  by  J.  E.  De  Kay.    Albany,  1844. 
*  Natural  History  of  Nno  York.     5  vols.     New  York,  1842, 

86  SNAKES. 

Holbrooke,!  who  all  describe  it  as  being  very  beautiful  and 

*  innocent '  (except  in  the  eyes  of  the  farmers'  wives).  It  is  of  a 
pale,  pearly  white,  sometimes  tinged  with  pink,  and  with  rich 
chocolate  spots  on  its  back.  The  Racer,  of  egg-stealing 
notoriety,  is  also  a  sad  milk  thief,  and,  like  our  own  little 
ring  snake,  has  been  known  to  retrace  its  way  into  dairies. 
Such  depredations  were  more  frequent  formerly  when  the 
snakes  were  more  numerous.     Of  the  Racer,  Lawson^  says, 

*  This  Whipster  haunts  the  Dairies  of  careless  Housewives, 
and  never  misses  to  skim  the  Milk  clear  of  the  Cream.' 

The  same  love  of  warmth  which  takes  the  reptiles  among 
cattle,  guides  them  into  dwellings,  particularly  during  the 
night ;  and  in  hot  countries  where  nursing-women  of  the 
poorer  classes  lie  exposed,  snakes  have  been  found  upon 
their  breasts,  and  absurd  stories  have  been  told  of  their 
sucking  the  teats  of  women.  In  India,  Australia,  and 
America,  such  stories  are  common. 

After  all,  it  does  not  seem  surprising  that  snakes  should 
like  milk.  Being  carnivorous  by  nature,  they  would  at  once 
detect  an  animal  flavour  in  the  liquid  by  the  agency  of 
their  sensitive  tongue. 

Now  turning  to  India,  we  find  that  the  love  of  snakes  for 
milk  is  mentioned  by  numerous  writers  on  the  manners  and 
customs  of  the  Hindus,  as  well  as  by  travellers  and  naturalists. 
Balfour'  tells  us  'when  a  snake  discovers  how  to  get  at  the 
eggs  and  milk  in  a  larder,  no  native  w^ill  on  any  account 
kill  it,  because   it  is  regarded    as  the  good  genius  of  the 

^  North  Afnerican  Herpctology.     Pliil.,  U.  S.,  1842. 

2  History  of  Carolina^  by  Jno.  Lawson,  1 709. 

^  Balfour's  British  India  ;  also  the  Cyclopedia  of  India. 


house.'  And  again,  *  that  the  cobra  is  fed  with  milk  in  some 
of  the  temples  where  it  is  worshipped.' 

Dr.  Shortt  of  Madras  keeps  a  man  to  attend  to  his  cobras, 
and  finds  them  thrive  excellently  on  sour  milk,  which  is 
administered  once  in  ten  or  twelve  days.^  '  Snakes  feed 
on  eggs  and  inilk]  says  Sir  J.  Fayrer. 

When  we  read  similar  facts  mentioned  incidentally,  and 
with  no  especial  object,  we  may  give  them  credence  even 
more  than  if  a  prejudiced  writer  were  endeavouring  to  prove 
such  or  such  a  thing.  For  instance,  during  the  visit  of 
H.R.H.  the  Prince  of  Wales  to  India,  the  exhibition  of 
snakes  and  snake-charming  formed  a  not  unimportant  item 
in  the  programme,  and  furnished  many  columns  of  cobra 
performances  and  cobra  traditions  to  the  papers.  More 
than  one  of  the  journalists  unintentionally  corroborated 
what  Balfour  and  other  writers  tell  us  about  the  '  good  luck ' 
of  having  a  cobra  in  the  chiippitr  of  the  hut,  the  fearlessness 
with  which  the  children  regard  their  *  uncle,'  as  they  call  it, 
and  their  care  in  placing  milk  and  eggs  for  it  each  evening. 

But  I  am  reminded  of  a  singular  case  which  came  to  me 
through  a  personal  acquaintance  from  India  who  was  present 
at  the  time. 

Four  officers  sitting  in  a  bungalow  in  India  were  deep  in 
a  game  of  whist.  Suddenly  one  of  them,  turning  deadly 
pale,  made  signs  that  no  one  should  move  or  speak.  In 
a  hushed  voice  he  exclaimed, '  Keep  still,  for  God's  sake  ! 
I  feel  a  cobra  crawling  about  my  legs  ! '  He  knew  that 
timidity  was  one  of  the  strongest  characteristics  of  this 
snake,  and  that  if  not  disturbed  or  alarmed,  it  would  in  due 

1  See  Medical  Times,  1872,  p.  730. 

88  SNAKES. 

time  depart  of  its  own  accord.  All  present  were  accustomed 
to  the  stealthy  intruders,  and  did  not,  happily,  lose  their 
presence  of  mind.  They  very  noiselessly  bent  down  so  as 
to  take  a  survey  beneath  the  table,  when,  sure  enough, 
there  was  the  unwelcome  visitor,  a  full-sized  cobra,  twining 
and  gliding  about  the  legs  of  their  hapless  friend.  Literally 
death  was  at  his  feet  I  A  movement,  a  noise,  even  an 
agitated  tremble  might  have  been  fatal. 

Luckily  one  of  the  four  was  acquainted  with  the  milk- 
loving  habit  of  the  cobra,  and  rising  from  his  seat  with  quiet 
and  cautious  movements,  not  daring  to  hasten,  yet  dreading 
delay,  he  managed  to  steal  from  the  room,  while  he  signed 
the  rest  to  remain  motionless.  Quickly  he  crept  back  with 
a  saucer  of  milk  in  his  hand,  and  still  with  noiseless  move- 
ments set  the  saucer  under  the  table  as  close  to  the  terrible 
reptile  as  it  was  safe  to  venture. 

That  fearful  strain  on  their  nerves  was  happily  of  not 
long  duration,  for  presently  they  were  relieved  by  seeing  the 
creature  gradually  untwine  itself  and  go  to  the  milk. 

Never  before  or  since  did  that  officer  leap  from  his  seat 
as  he  did  then,  the  moment  he  felt  himself  free  from  the 
coils  of  the  cobra,  and  read  in  the  faces  of  his  comrades  that 
he  was  saved.  Short  thrift,  however,  had  Mr.  Cobra,  for 
sticks  and  whip-handles  were  freely  administered,  even  before 
the  saucer  w^as  reached. 

The  enemy  got  rid  of,  the  game  was  resumed  ;  and  it  is 
worth  the  while  of  those  in  India  to  bear  this  narrow  escape 
in  mind,  and  bring  milk  to  the  rescue  in  case  of  similar 

That  snakes  drink,  and  occasionally  drink  milk,  is  suffi- 


ciently  established.  Modern  authorities  now  affirm  it 
decidedly.  Says  Dr.  Giinther  in  his  great  work,  published 
by  the  Ray  Society ,1  '  All  snakes  drink,  and  die  when 
deprived  of  water.'  Dr.  Edward  Nicholson,  another  of 
our  practical  ophiologists,  speaking  of  one  of  his  pet 
snakes,  a  TropidonoUts,  says  '  the  offer  of  a  drink  of  water 
will  at  once  gain  its  heart.'  In  watching  snakes  drinking, 
he  has  frequently  counted  one  hundred  gulps  before  the 
drinker  is  satisfied.-  If  Anguis  fragilis,  the  common  blind- 
worm,  from  its  snake-like  form,  may  be  cited  here,  I  ma}- 
mention  one  of  my  own,  which,  after  being  shut  up  in  a 
box  for  safety  during  my  absence  from  home  for  some  days, 
drank  for  such  a  long  while  when  first  released  from  cap- 
tivity, that  I  was  really  tired  of  waiting  to  watch  her.  She 
almost  immediately  went  to  a  flower-pot  saucer  of  water,  with 
which  she  was  familiar,  and  which  I  placed  near  her.  For 
some  time  I  watched  the  tongue  thrown  out  and  withdrawn, 
till  I  began  to  wonder  how  much  longer  she  would  remain 
dipping  that  little  bifid  organ.  I  then  began  to  count,  and 
she  dipped  it  seventy-five  times  more,  after  drinking  at  least 
as  long  as  that  previously.  Then  she  moved  away,  and  ex- 
plored among  the  books  on  the  table,  but  soon  returned  to 
the  saucer  and  dipped  her  tongue  again  upwards  of  seventy 
times.  How  much  more  I  cannot  affirm,  as  I  could  not 
remain  any  longer  waiting  for  her,  and  left  her  still  drinking. 
('  Lizzie,'  thus  named  from  her  lizard  nature,  must  claim 
a  chapter  to  herself  in  this  book,  for  she  greatly  distinguished 
herself  in  laccrtine  doings.) 

1  Reptiles  of  British  India,  by  Dr.  A.  Giinther,  F.R.S.     London,  1864. 

2  Indian  Snakes,  by  E.  Nicholson,  Madras  Army.     Madras,  1870. 

90  SNAKES. 

While  puzzling  over  this  drinking  question,  I  find  a 
favourite  author,  P.  H.  Gosse,  affirm,  '  Snakes  drink  by 
suction,  not  by  lapping,'  and  that  'serpents  are  said  to 
lap  up  fluids  with  their  forked  tongue,  which,  however, 
seems  to  be  ill  suited  to  such  an  operation.'  ^ 

Then  one  naturally  turns  to  the  encyclopedias,  where  we 
grow  still  more  perplexed,  for  no  two  agree  precisely  on 
all  points. 

*  The  use  of  the  tongue  in  serpents  is  not  exactly  known.'  ^ 
And  again,  '  It  is  believed  that  serpents  never  drink.'  ^  It  is 
true  that  the  compiler  of  the  article  Reptilia  quotes  Schlegel 
a  good  deal;  but  unfortunately  that  is  the  very  point  on 
which  Schlegel  speaks  doubtfully.  Nor  do  we  presume  to 
include  the  learned  Schlegel  as  one  of  the  inaccurately 
informed  individuals,  though  he  does  discredit  the  milk- 
drinkers.  Of  him  Dumeril  thus  writes,  or  of  his  work  rather, 
which  he  pronounced  to  be  '  le  plus  detaille  et  le  plus  complet 
qui  ait  paru  jusqu'ici  (1844),  et  auquel  nous  serons  sans  cesse 
oblige  d'avoir  recours.'  Schlegel  is  also  quoted  by  Cantor, 
1 841  ;  by  Dr.  J.  E.  Gray,  1849;  by  Dr.  A.  Giinther,  1864; 
and,  in  fact,  by  most  scientific  ophiologists.  Natural  history 
is  an  ever-advancing  science,  more  so,  perhaps,  than  any 
other.  Linnseus  and  Cuvier  were  great  in  their  day,  but 
their  systems  obtain  no  longer. 

Unfortunately,  a  dozen  book-makers  and  a  thousand 
journalists  seek  no  farther  than  encyclopedias  when  they  are 
'  reading  up  '  a  subject ;  and  not  until  too  late,  if  at  all,  or  after 

1  Natural  History  of  Reptiles^  by  P.  H.  Gosse,      1S50. 

2  Encyclopedia  Britatwica,  1 859,  see  art.  *  Reptilia,'  p.  47. 
^  Ibid.  p.  47. 


long  searchings  and  a  realization  of  the  importance  of  dates, 
do  these  wide  spreaders  of  information  discover  the  error. 
Compilers  of  articles  for  encyclopedias  are  always  limited  as  to 
space,  and  often  as  to  time;  and  life  would  not  be  long  enough 
to  wade  through  Zoological  Records  covering  fifty  years,  or 
Aiinales  des  sciences  nature  lies  which  date  from  1824  to  the 
present  time.  Only,  the  compilers  of  articles  on  the  Rcptilia 
should  surely  have  known  of  Mr.  Bell's  Cohtbe^'  natrix,  and 
of  the  Paris  python,  and  of  the  Aniphisbcena  of  the  Zoological 
Gardens,  all  ophidian  celebrities  in  their  day. 

The  mention  of  the  Zoological  Gardens  reminds  me  of  my 
promise  to  conduct  my  readers  thither  as  an  agreeable  change 
from  the  book-shelves.  Therefore,  without  further  wearying 
them  with  the  conflicting  statements  of  fifty  writers,  let  us 
repair  thither,  and  see  what  Holland,  the  keeper,  tells  us 
about  his  thirsty  snakes. 

First,  we  observe  that  most  of  the  cages  are  furnished 
with  a  tank  or  a  pan  of  water,  and  this  not  for  the  water- 
snakes  only.  Many  of  the  others,  also,  are  lying  in  their 
bath,  coiled  up  in  apparent  enjoyment.  Questioning  the 
intelligent  keeper,  he  tells  us  that  when  fresh  ophidian 
inmates  arrive,  they  almost  invariably  go  to  the  water, 
and  though  for  a  time  they  refuse  food,  they  alzuays  drink. 
On  several  occasions  some  have  drunk  so  eagerly  that  the 
water  has  visibly  sunk  in  the  tank.  These  were  the  larger 
snakes,  of  course.  He  does  '  not  believe  they  would  live 
without  water.'  He  then  tells  us  the  story  of  the  Aniphis- 
bcsna  over  again,  the  snake  that  lived  for  six  months  on 
milk  only,  and  which  was  chronicled  in  the  zoological 
magazines  of  the  day,  and  has  figured  in  books  ever  since. 

92  SNAKES. 

Mr.  Mann  confirmed  all  these  facts  in  his  own  ophidian 
pets,  and  going  to  see  these  interesting  individuals,  we  felt 
no  doubt  about  it  when  a  saucer  of  water  was  in  the  way. 

But  I  do  feel  inclined  to  doubt  whether  the  use  of  the 
tongue  in  'lapping,'  as  it  has  been  called,  is  not  rather  to 
moisten  that  organ  than  to  quench  the  thirst.  We  shall  see 
in  the  following  chapter  what  it  does  for  its  owner,  and  we 
shall  see  the  necessity  for  this  delicate  organ  to  be  well 
lubricated.  Both  it  and  its  sheath  require  to  be  constantly 
moistened  ;  how  else  could  it  glide  in  and  out  with  that 
wonderful  activity  ?  how  in  a  dry  and  parched  condition  could 
it  retain  its  exceeding  flexibility  and  delicacy  of  perception  ? 

Unfortunately,  the  position  of  the  tanks  in  the  cages  at 
the  London  Zoological  Gardens,  and  the  stone  ledge  in 
front  of  them,  prevent  the  visitors  from  watching  the  actions 
of  the  snakes  in  the  water,  either  when  swimming  or  drinking. 
Occasionally  one  of  the  inmates  of  the  larger  cages  may  be 
seen  in  a  pan  of  water,  though  their  motions  are  necessarily 
restricted  there.  One  day,  however,  the  yellow  Jamaica 
boa,  when  drinking  from  the  pan,  afforded  an  excellent 
opportunity  for  observation.  And  he  was  a  long  time 
imbibing.  There  was  no  perceptible  action  of  the  lips, 
which  were  barely  parted.  The  snake  kept  its  mouth 
just  below  the  level  of  the  water,  and  the  only  action  or 
movement  seen  was  at  the  back  of  the  head,  or  on  each 
side  of  the  neck,  like  a  pulsation,  as  the  water  passed  down 
in  short  gulps.  This  is  the  *  suction '  which  writers  describe, 
a  drawing  in  of  the  liquid  ;  but  the  lips  do  not  take  part  in 
the  act.  When,  therefore,  we  read  that  snakes  drink  both 
by  lapping  and  also  by  suction,  we  may  surmise  that  the  former 


Is  for  the  benefit  of  the  tongue,  the  latter  of  the  body  ;  and  a 
large  quantity  of  liquid  is  often  drawn  in  by  this  sort  of 
suction,  very  distinct  from  '  sucking,'  the  reputed  way  of  en- 
joying milk  from  the  living  fountain,  and  a  process  impossible 
to  creatures  that  have  not  soft  lips  and  a  broad  tongue. 
The  Jamaica  boa  drew  in  those  perceptible  gulps  for  a  long 
time,  then  raised  his  head,  and  rested  awhile,  and  presently 
drank  again,  and  this  several  times  while  we  were  watching. 
It  was  what  Dumeril  described  a  la  regalade. 

Mr.  Sam  Lockwood  of  New  Jersey,  writing  in  the  American 
Naturalist,  vol.  ix.  1875,  describes  the  pine  snake  drinking. 
'It  lays  its  head  flat  upon  the  water,  letting  the  lov/er  jaw 
just  sink  a  little  below  the  surface,  when  with  a  very  uniform 
movement  the  water  is  drawn  up  into  the  mouth  and  passed 
into  the  throat.  It  is  true  drinking,  like  that  of  a  horse.' 
One  that  he  watched  drank  five  minutes  by  the  clock  with- 
out taking  breath.  Then  it  paused,  looked  about  for  three 
minutes,  and  then  drank  again  for  five  minutes  more.  *  In 
all,  it  drank  a  little  over  a  gill.  Previously  it  has  been 
without  water  for  four  weeks.' 

In  size  this  pine  snake  dift"ers  not  much  from  the  Jamaica 
boa  {CJulobothrus  inornatiis),  that  we  watched  at  the  Gardens, 
and  the  manner  and  time  were  very  similar.  True,  we  did 
not  time  him  by  a  watch,  nor  could  we  tell  exactly  how 
much  he  drank,  nor  how  long  previously  he  had  been  with- 
out drinking  ;  but,  at  a  guess,  he  could  not  have  been  much 
less  than  five  minutes  without  taking  breath.  Aiiguis 
fragilis,  that  lapped  seventy  times,  and  stopped,  and  lapped 
again,  must  also  have  been  some  minutes  without  breathing, 
because  hers  was  the  most  leisurely  lapping  I  ever  saw. 




GOSSIP  from  the  Zoological  Gardens  to  confirm  what 
has  been  so  often  said,  namely,  that  nine  out  of 
every  ten  of  the  visitors  to  the  Ophidarium  will  point  to  the 
tongue  of  a  snake  and  exclaim,  *  Look  at  its  sting ! '  seems 
too  trivial  and  too  defiantly  challenging  the  credulity  of  my 
readers,  to  introduce  here.  Nevertheless,  that  it  is  necessary 
emphatically  to  state  not  only  that  the  tongue  of  a  snake 
is  not  its  sting,  but  that  a  snake  has  no  sting  at  all,  you 
will  admit  the  very  next  time  you  go  there.  You  will  hear 
not  only  the  Monday,  but  the  Stuiday  visitors — well  dressed, 
and  apparently  well  educated  persons— say  to  each  other 
when  watching  a  snake,  *  That's  its  sting  ! '  I  must  be  per- 
mitted, therefore,  to  'gossip'  a  moment  in  confirmation. 

One  Friday,  in  April  1881,  just  before  the  time  w^hen  the 
public  w'ere  excluded  at  feeding  hours,  we  were  watching 
the  movements  of  a  pretty  little  harmless  snake,  the  rapid 
quivering    of  whose   tongue   denoted    excitement   of  some 



kind.  Probably  it  was  anticipating  the  frog  in  store  for  it, 
as  this  was  feeding  day.  Its  tongue  was  unusually  active, 
and  was  exserted  to  its  extreme  length,  its  motions  being 
almost  invisible  in  their  rapidity. 

Two  gentlemen  drew  near,  and  also  stopped  before  this 
cage.  One  of  them,  a  tall,  dark  man,  looked  like  a  foreigner  ; 
but  he  was  talking  pure  English  to  his  friend,  and  had  been 
talking  a  good  deal  about  the  snakes,  as  if  he  were  familiar 
with  their  habits.  *  From  the  Tropics,'  observed  my  com- 
panion, sotto  voce,  and  looking  as  if  we  might  hear  something 
worth  knowing  from  this  large,  loud-voiced  visitor. 

*  See  that  ?  '  he  presently  exclaimed  to  his  friend.  *  Look 
there ! ' 

'  That  thing  it  keeps  putting  out  of  its  mouth  } ' 

'Yes.  That's  its  sting.  One  touch  of  that,  just  one  little 
touch,  and  you're  a  dead  man.     There's  no  cure  for  it ! ' 

No  less  than  four  different  parties  made  similar  remarks 
in  our  hearing  during  our  short  visit  to  the  reptile  house 
that  day,  and  these  not  of  the  common  crowd  either. 

First,  two  lads  who  looked  as  if  they  ought  to  have  known 
better.  Next,  a  party  of  several  persons,  of  whom  the  one 
more  particularly  addressed  when  his  friend  informed  him, 
'That's  the  sting  that  it  jerks  out  so,'  replied,  'Ah,  but 
they  extract  it ! '  Thirdly,  a  young  gentleman  remarked  to 
his  lady  companion,  *  See  how  it  keeps  darting  out  its  sting  ! ' 
to  whom  she  ejaculated,  '  Oh,  the  fearful  creature  ! '  Fourthly, 
the  tall  man.  And  all  this  of  poor  little  innocent  Tropi- 
donotus  (our  common  ring  snake),  with  not  even  a  fang  to 
injure  you  ! 

Like  many  other  of  the  zoological  myths  not  yet  extinct, 

96  SNAKES. 

this   *  stinging   tongue'    has    its   origin    in  mystery.     Long 
before  a   deadly  serpent  was  examined   by   an    intelligent 
reasoner,  and  the  nature  of  its  fatal  stroke  comprehended, 
the  mysterious  *  dart '  was  seen  to  play  ;  this,  to  the  ignorant, 
being    the    only  visible    and    possible    instrument   of  such 
fatality.     But  that  the  fable  should  still  obtain  is  amazing. 
Even  some  learned  men  of  the  present  century,  if  they  do 
not  happen  to  have  included  natural  history  in  their  studies, 
assist  in  disseminating  the  error.     Can  they,  however,  be 
acquainted  with  classical  writers  .'*  -    Pliny,  to  whom  many  of 
the  old-time  errors  in  natural  history  have  been  traced,  must 
be  acquitted  as  regards  the  poisonous  tongue ;  for  though 
he  speaks  of  the  '  sting '  of  a  serpent,  I  do  not  recall  that  he 
once  attributed  the  injury  to  the  tongue.     Aristotle,  whose 
reputation  as  a  naturalist  ranks  far  higher,  distinctly  and 
frequently  speaks    of  the    bite,  and    the    degrees    of  injury 
inflicted  by  the  various  kinds  of  serpent  bites.     It  is  possible 
that  some  classical  writers  may  have  supposed  the  tongue 
to  be  an  instrument  of  death,  as  it  is  certain  that  some  of 
the   sacred  writers  did.     But  our   inherited   faith  in   Bible 
history   has,   until    recently,    checked    all    doubt    and    even 
inquiry.     Now,  however,  that  a  new  version  of  Holy  Writ 
has  been  deemed  essential,  it  is  to  be  hoped  that  an  efficient 
naturalist  is  included  in  the  Council. 

In  justification  of  the  above  criticism  I  may  be  permitted 
to  quote  just  one  of  the  many  unquestioning  writers.  The 
author  of  the  History  of  Egypt,  W.  Holt  Yates,  M.R.C.P.  of 
London,  President  of  the  Royal  Medical  Society  of  Edin- 
burgh, Physician  to  the  General  Dispensary,  etc.,  says  in  a 
foot-note  (vol.  i.  p.  322),  'It  is  a  mistake  to  suppose  that 


snakes  hurt  onlv  with  their  teeth.  Some  have  no  teeth, 
but  only  hard  gums.  Others  only  attack  with  their  tongue 
— the  same  end  is  attained  in  either  case  by  the  insertion 
of  the  poison.' 

Now  were  you  to  ask  that  writer,  as  I  have  several  times 
asked  persons  who  were  under  the  same  impression,  '  What 
reason  have  you  to  suppose  that  the  snake's  tongue  is 
poisonous  .? '  he  would  very  likely  reply,  *  Oh  !  well — it  is 
venomous.  I  always  thought  so.'  Then,  reflectively,  he 
might  add,  *  Poisonous-tongued  }  —  "  whose  tongue  out- 
venoms" — "with  deadlier  tongue  than  thine,  thou  serpent"  ' 
— or  some  such  familiar  words,  proving  that  his  idea  was 
poetical,  imaginative,  and  acquired  he  can  scarcely  explain 

What  very  little  he  knew  about  snakes,  then,  was  learned 
from  Shakspeare — we  say  Shakspeare,  for  what  other  author 
has  been  read  and  re-read,  and  committed  to  memory,  and 
quoted  during  the  last  three  centuries  like  the  Bard  of  Avon  } 
The  bard,  genius  though  he  was,  and  wide  his  field  of  in- 
formation, was  certainly  not  a  naturalist.  Nor  did  he  make 
any  pretensions  to  be  one.  He  was  as  unconscious  of  the 
errors  in  natural  history  which  he  was  handing  down  to  pos- 
terity, as  he  was  unconscious  of  his  own  enduring  fame ;  or 
that  he  would  be  '  the  immortal  bard '  three  hundred  years 
later,  with  every  probability  of  ever  living  in  the  human 
mind  as  such. 

His  idea  of  the  poisonous  tongue  of  a  snake  was  the 
prevalent  one  of  his  day.  It  was  an  inherited  prejudice, 
which  he  had  never  stopped  to  question,  any  more  than 
nine  hundred  and  ninety-nine  out  of  every  thousand  of  his 

98  SNAKES. 

readers  have  ever  stopped  to  question  the  fact  of  an  adder's 
tongiie  being  poisonous,  Shakspeare  having  affirmed  that 
it  is  so. 

People  do  not  read  Shakspeare  to  learn  natural  history, 
you  say.  True ;  but  his  poetry,  his  similes,  take  hold  of 
the  mind,  fix  themselves  in  the  memory,  and  take  root ; 
and  an  assertion,  as  in  the  case  of  the  gentle  little 
'  blindworm,'  takes  very  deep  root,  as  it  seems,  and  thrives 
for  three  hundred  years  ;  or  naturalists  of  the  present  day 
would  not  feel  called  upon  to  explain  that  it  is  neither 
'blind,'  nor  'deaf,'  nor  'venomous.' 

Still  you  reject  the  idea  that  Shakspeare  through  his 
immense  and  universal  popularity  is  responsible  for  a 
ridiculous  error.  Not  Shakspeare  alone,  then,  or  cul- 
pably so.  But  since  the  idea  has  prevailed  for  thousands 
of  years,  even  to  the  present  time,  and  since  persons  are 
more  likely  to  quote  Shakspeare  on  the  subject  than  any 
other  author,  let  us  glance  at  the  literature  of  Shakspeare's 
time,  and  endeavour  to  account  for  his  fixed  impression  as 
to  a  serpent's  tongue  being  poisonous.  Let  us  also  try  to 
recall  from  any  one  of  the  writers  of  the  same  era,  or  those 
who  wrote  in  English  previously,  any  single  line  on  the 
present  subject  that  has  become  so  engrafted  on  the  mind, 
so  incorporated  with  our  education,  as  those,  for  example, 
above  quoted.  There  was  a  host  of  other  play-writers  in 
Shakspeare's  time,  but  very  few  naturalists. 

Poetry,  plays,  and  Protestantism  characterized  the  litera- 
ture of  the  period.  But  familiar  to  us  by  name  as  are  his 
contemporaries,  it  will  be  as  easy  to  find  one  educated 
person    who    has    read    the    whole    of    their    works,    as    it 


would  be  to  find  one  educated  person  who  has  not  read 

There  were  travels  and  histories  written,  the  great  mari- 
time discoveries  of  the  age  giving  birth  to  this  new  class 
of  literature.  Hakluyt's  voyages  were  printed  when  Shaks- 
peare was  only  twenty-five  years  of  age,  and  even  if  he 
read  them  he  would  not  have  learned  much  about  serpents 
there.  Nor  in  Sir  Walter  Raleigh's  histories  either,  which 
were  written  chiefly  during  his  prison  life,  he  being  liberated 
the  same  year  that  saw  the  death  of  Shakspeare,  16 16. 

Many  other  well-known  authors  will  occur  to  the  reader, 
to  say  nothing  of  the  writers  of  the  previous  eras,  the  great 
divines  and  scholars  who  wrote  in  Latin,  and  the  many 
English  ballad-writers  more  likely  to  be  perused  by  'the 

As  for  natural  history,  it  found  no  place  on  those  shelves, 
for  as  a  science  it  did  not  as  yet  exist  in  England.  Lord 
Bacon,  Shakspeare's  celebrated  contemporary,  did  make 
some  pretensions  to  be  a  naturalist ;  but  his  Novum 
Orgamivi  was  written  in  Latin,  and  we  are  not  led  to 
believe  that  the  poet  enjoyed  any  very  great  educational 
and  classical  advantages,  having  had 

'Small  Latin  and  less  Greek,' 

according  to  his  friend  and  eulogist,  Ben  Jonson. 

And  even  if  Shakspeare  did  read  what  was  then  the 
Book  of  the  period,  Lord  Bacon  unfortunately  fell  into  some 
of  the  popular  errors,  or  made  very  hazardous  conjectures, 
so  far  as  natural  history  was  understood  ;  and  of  him  Dr. 
Carpenter  says,  '  So  far  from  contributing  to  our  knowledge 

loo  SNAKES. 

of  natural  history,  he  often  gave  additional  force  to  error 
by  the  weight  of  his  authority.' 

In  recalling  some  lines  from  Shakspeare,  the  reader 
will  find  how  very  familiar  to  the  mind  are  the  serpent 
similes.  Some  of  them  prove  that  the  poet  was  cognizant 
of  a  tooth  being  also  a  source  of  evil ;  but  it  is  evident  that 
he  thought  the  tongue  was  so  also,  especially  the  tongue  of 
the  '  blindworm.' 

For  a  few  out  of  the  many  in  which  Shakspeare's  plays 
abound,  vide  Timon  of  Athens,  Act  iv.  Scene  3:  'The 
gilded  newt  and  eyeless  venomed  worm.' 

Midsummer  Nighfs  Dream,  Act  iii.  Scene  2.  When 
Hermia  thinks  that  Demetrius  has  killed  Lysander  while 
sleeping,  she  scathingly  ejaculates :  '  O  brave  touch  !  Could 
not  a  worm,  an  adder  do  so  much  ?  An  adder  did  it ;  for 
with  deadlier  tongue  than  thine,  thou  serpent,  never  adder 
stung ! ' 

In  Cymbeline,  Act  iii.  Scene  2,  Pisanio  says :  *  What  false 
Italian,  as  poisonous  tongued  as  handed,  hath  prevailed  on 
thy  too  ready  hearing,?'  Again,  in  Scene  4  of  the  same 
Act,  Pisanio  would  not  hear  evil  of  his  mistress,  and  cries  : 
'  No,  'tis  slander ;  whose  edge  is  sharper  than  the  sword, 
whose  tongue  outvenoms  all  the  worms.' 

Henry  VL,  Act  ii.  Scene  2,  Clifford  says  to  the  King : '  Who 
'scapes  the  lurking  serpent's  mortal  sting  ! '  Act  iii.  Scene  2  : 
'  Their  touch  affrights  me  as  a  serpent's  sting.  .  .  .  What ! 
art  thou  like  the  adder  waxen  deaf  ?     Be  poisonous  too  ! ' 

Muck  Ado  about  Nothing,  Act  v.  Scene  i,  Antonio 
says :  '  As  I  dare  take  a  serpent  by  the  tongue.' 

And  in  King  John,  Act  ii.   Scene    i,  Randolph  says  to 


King  Philip,   'France,  thou  may*st  hold  a  serpent  by  the 
tongue ! ' 

Not  snakes  only,  but  toads,  lizards,  spiders,  and  other 
'  creeping  things,'  were  thought  venomous  in  Shakspeare's 

Song  in  Midsummer  Nighfs  Dream  :  *  You  spotted 
snakes,  with  double  tongue/  Then,  in  appeal  to  the 
'  serpents '  not  to  injure  the  Fairy  Queen  :  *  Newts  and 
blindworms,  do  no  wrong.' 

The  nearest  approach  to  a  scientific  work  on  natural 
history  written  in  English  at  that  time  was  a  curious 
volume  published  in  1608,  in  whose  folio  pages  may  be  seen 
most  astonishing  '  Serpentes,'  combinations  of  worms  and 
feathered  fowls,  saurian,  ophidian,  and  batrachian,  wonder- 
fully adorned  with  horns,  gills,  wings,  spear-shaped  or  forked 
tongues,  and  arrow-shaped  tails.  The  zoological  illus- 
trations of  that  work  give  us  some  idea  of  what  a  snake 
was  supposed  to  be.  Among  them  is  one  with  a  human 
head,  and  another  with  a  crown,  because  he  is  *  the  King  of 
Serpentes  for  his  Magnitude  or  Greatnesse.'  There  is  also  a 
'  Dragon  '  with  horns,  wings,  scales,  claws,  two  rows  of  robust 
teeth,  and  an  arrow-headed  tongue.  Mingled  fable  and 
fancy  with  some  few  facts,  these  anomalies  are  solemnly 
described  as  *  The  Naturall  Historie  of  Serpentes,'  the  said 
serpents  including  bees,  wasps,  *  frogges,'  toads,  earthworms, 
lizards,  spiders,  etc.,  and  a  'cockatrice.' 

The  author,  E.  Topsell,  addresses  the  'gentle  and  pious 
Reader '  on  the  '  publishing  of  this  Treatise  of  Venomous 
Beasts,'  and  more  particularly  of  '  Serpentes,  Divine,  Morall, 
and  Naturell,  their  Poyson  and  Bitings,  since  the  gentle  and 

102  SNAKES. 

pious  Reader  will  see  how  that  the   Historie  of  Serpentes 
begineth  at  the  Creation.' 

Thus  we  see  that  the  ideal  snake  was  a  religious  principle, 
carried  out  in  illustrations  and  architec- 
tural embellishments,  where  'that  old 
serpent  the  devil'  was    depicted  as  a 

.  J  M  1  •  •        ,  •  11  Fabulous  tongues. 

creature  as  terrible  as  imagmation  could 

conceive  it  ;  and  of  course  with  a  highly-developed  tongue 

in  the  form  of  a  dart  or  a  spear,  more  or  less  alarming. 

Far  in  advance  of  Topsell,  and  far  in  advance  of  England, 
were  the  naturalists  of  Southern  Europe.  Gesner,  professor 
of  philosophy  at  Zurich,  published  his  Historia  Animalium 
in  155 1  ;  and  Aldrovanus,  professor  of  philosophy  and  physic 
at  Bologna,  wrote  thirteen  folio  volumes  of  natural  history, 
four  only  of  which  were  published  during  his  lifetime,  and 
the  rest  after  his  death,  which  was  in  1605.  These  two 
authors,  though  out  of  date  at  the  present  day,  have  left 
their  names  perpetuated  in  plants  and  animals  examined 
by  them. 

As  one  of  the  objects  of  this  work  is  to  trace  the  origin 
of  some  of  the  many  errors  that  have  obtained  regarding 
the  serpent  race,  and  to  note  the  gradual  enlightenment 
observable  in  successive  writers,  it  is  a  part  of  our  duty  to 
quote  the  Bible  ;  and  this  we  do  with  reverence,  emboldened 
by  the  fact  that  the  present  state  of  knowledge  has  demanded 
a  new  translation  to  satisfy  the  intellect  of  the  age. 

Shakspeare  himself  might  have  had  the  Bible  devoutly 
in  his  mind  when  he  talked  of  the  adder's  '  sting.' 

Among  the  many  commentators  and  exponents  of  Holy 
Writ,  Cruden  (a.d.   1794)  says,  *  Some  place  the  venom  of 


the  serpent  in  its  gall,  others  in  its  tongue,  and  others  in  its 
teeth.'  David  seems  to  place  it  in  its  tongue : — Ps.  cxl.  3, 
'  They  have  sharpened  their  tongues  like  a  serpent'  So 
also  Job,  XX.  16,  'The  viper's  tongue  shall  slay  him.' 

The  sacred  writers,  however,  quite  understood  that  serpents 
did  bite  as  well  as  '  sting.'  Solomon  made  the  same  distinc- 
tion that  is  observable  in  Shakspeare,  '  biteth  like  a  serpent, 
stingeth  like  an  adder.' 

In  fact,  the  tongue  of  an  adder,  whether  in  allusion  to  '  the 
worm  of  the  Nile,'  or  to  our  own  pretty  little  *  deaf-adder,' 
seems  still  to  bear  the  evil  character  which  it  has  borne 
from  time  immemorial. 

Superstition,  prejudice,  and  ignorance  are  still  rampant 
whenever  a  snake  is  thought  of  Inherited  and  educated 
antipathies  regarding  them  are  still  so  strong  that  some 
persons  will  not  even  allow  themselves  to  //;/learn  their  mis- 
conceptions ;  others  by  misrepresentations  do  their  best  to 
prevent  a  true  comprehension  of  their  habits  from  being 
better  understood  ;  and,  again,  there  are  those  who  know 
better,  and  who  are  even  engaged  in  instructing  others  by 
their  pen,  but  who  fall  into  the  habit  of  encouraging  horror 
and  hatred,  instead  of  reason,  truth,  and  a  tolerance  towards 
a  creature  wisely  produced  to  fulfil  its  part  and  to  perform 
its  duties  in  the  great  balance  of  organized  beings. 

Some  journalists  religiously  keep  up  the  delusion  about 
the  tongue  of  a  snake,  by  using  a  prejudicial  prefix.  From 
a  pile  of  newspaper  cuttings  and  other  printed  matter  rela- 
tive to  snakes,  I  transcribe  a  few  sentences  at  random,  to 
illustrate  what  is  meant : — '  Its  horrid  forked  tongue.'  '  Its 
slithering   tongue.'      *  Its   villanous   poisonous   tongue,'    etc. 


And  if  sensationalism  seem  to  demand  still  more  forcible 
language,  as,  for  instance,  in  describing  an  injury  or  an 
escape,  our  journalist  tells  us  of  the  'forked  tongue  darting 
defiance.'  'The  wicked-looking  serpent  tongue  protruded 
with  lightning-like  swiftness.'  'To  see  the  reptile  run  its 
devilish  tongue  out  at  you.'  '  Its  horrid  lancinating  tongue 
protruded,'  etc.  These  are  only  a  few  of  such  sentences 
copied  verbatim,  but  they  are  unfortunately  too  common, 
even  with  the  better-informed  writers. 

The  idea  of  a  snake  being  sufficiently  intelligent,  reason- 
ing, and  reflective  to  deliberately  '  run  its  tongue  out  at 
you,'  as  if  conscious  of  its  own  moral  power  and  your  moral 
weakness,  is  too  ludicrous.  If  the  snake  could  truly  inflict 
injury  with  those  soft,  flexible,  delicate  filaments, — if  it 
could,  with  one  rapid  touch,  insert  poison,  as  the  tall  talker 
at  the  Zoological  Gardens  affirmed,  the  threatening  quiver 
could  only  be  in  friendly  warning.  Let  the  poor  reptile 
at  least  be  thanked  for  that. 

Our  lamented  friend,  Frank  Buckland,  fell  into  the  same 
error  (or  inadvertency,  since  he  quite  understood  that  the 
tongue  could  do  no  harm)  when  he  wrote  thus  of  the 
tongue  in  his  Cttriosities  of  Natural  History : — *  The  tongue 
is  generally  protruded  in  order  to  intimidate  the  bystanders;' 
and,  '  The  tongue  acts  as  a  sort  of  intimidation  to  its  aggres- 
sors ; '  thus  giving  the  snake  the  credit  of  a  waggish  sort 
of  intelligence,  far  more  complimentary  to  the  reptile  than 
to  the  bystander.  In  imagination  we  behold  a  solemn 
Convention  of  snakes,  held  in  ages  long  ago,  and 
a  resolution  to  this  effect  passed  unanimously : — '  Now 
these     poor    ignorant     mortals     think    we    can    kill   them 


with  our  soft  and  tender  tongues.  Though  so  tall,  and 
powerful,  and  terrible  to  us,  they  look  dreadfully  frightened 
whenever  we  use  our  tongues  in  our  own  service.  There- 
fore, whenever  any  of  these  two-legged  creatures  come  near 
us,  we  will  put  out  our  tongues  at  them,  and  frighten  them 
off/ — a  resolution  which  has  answered  admirably  well  down 
to  the  present  time.  '  Down  to  the  present  time  '  is  written 
and  repeated  in  all  seriousness. 

Let  me  be  pardoned  for  introducing  a  little  more  gossip 
here,  as  it  is  the  fashion  to  relate  what  is  seen  and  heard 
at  the  Zoological  Gardens.  And  so  much  is  related,  and 
has  been  related,  and  even  printed,  to  mislead  the  public, 
that,  in  the  earnest  hope  and  aspiration  of  assisting  \\\ 
correcting  false  impressions,  I  claim  to  repeat  what  was 
heard  as  well  as  the  rest.  Besides,  when  persons  talk  as 
loudly  as  if  they  were  delivering  a  lecture,  and  apparently 
with  the  benevolent  intention  of  instructing  the  public 
generally,  one  feels  justified  in  quoting  them. 

Eight  years  ago,  when  first  contemplating  this  work, 
and  anxiously  seeking  to  ascertain  precisely  what  could 
be  learned,  and  what  was  already  understood  about 
snakes,  so  far  as  the  reptile  house  at  the  Zoological 
Gardens  was  a  means  of  instruction,  I  made  very  careful 
notes  of  what  I  saw  there,  and  occasionally  of  what  I 
heard  there. 

In  the  summer  of  1874  some  well-dressed  children,  ac- 
companied by  their  parents,  were  watching  the  pythons  in 
the  largest  cage,  when  one  of  the  little  ones  asked,  *  Papa, 
what  is  that  thing  that  the  snake  keeps  putting  out  of  its 
mouth } '      '  Oh,    that   is    its    poisonous    sting,'    replied    the 


father.  The  eldest  girl  (in  her  teens),  with  an  affected 
shudder,  cried  '  Ugh ! '  and  a  boy  exclaimed,  *  I  am  glad 
it  can't  put  it  through  the  glass  at  tis  ! ' 

August  3,  1877. — A  gentleman,  to  all  appearance  well-bred 
and  intelligent,  told  his  two  boys,  *  That's  the  sting,'  as  they 
were  watching  the  play  of  a  snake's  tongue  in  one  of  the 
cages.  The  boys  looked  wonderingly  at  the  terrible  instru- 
ment, and  were  evidently  anxious  to  know  more  about  it, 
and  turned  to  ask  their  father.  But  he  had  passed  on,  and 
was  then  calling  to  them  to  look  at  something  else. 

July  1880, — A  lady,  apparently  the  governess  of  two  girls 
of  about  twelve  and  fourteen,  and  of  a  boy  of  about  eight, 
who  were  with  her,  was  conscientiously  endeavouring  to 
blend  instruction  with  amusement,  and  was  telling  them 
some  strange  and  hitherto  unheard-of  facts  about  the 
snakes ;  as,  for  instance,  that  the  rattlesnake  was  now 
going  to  *  crush  a  guinea-pig  by  winding  itself  round  it ; ' 
for  it  was  feeding-day,  and  the  keeper  had  just  put  poor 
piggy  into  the  cage.  But  the  children  got  tired  of  waiting 
to  see  what  did  not  occur ;  the  rattlesnake  was  merely 
investigating  matters  by  means  of  its  useful  tongue.  'Now, 
watch  it ! '  cried  the  lady  eagerly,  *  and  you'll  see  it  lick 
the  guinea-pig  with  its  poisonous  tongue.' 

Neither  was  this  feat  performed  by  the  Crotalus,  and  as 
the  children  got  tired  of  waiting,  and  were  impatient  to 
'  see  something  else,'  the  party  moved  on. 

But  the  reader  will  be  weary  of  hearing  what  the  tongue 
of  a  snake  is  7iot,  and  be  desirous  of  knowing  what  it  is  ;  and 
to  this  purpose  we  will  devote  another  chapter. 




IF  only  by  the  law  of  compensation,  another  chapter 
must  be  devoted  to  the  innocent  tongue  of  a  snake. 
It  has  been  an  object  of  hatred  and  aversion  for  untold 
ages,  and  the  misrepresentation  of  it,  and  the  abuse  of  it, 
would  fill  many  chapters.  Were  it  endowed  with  speech, 
and  the  words  of  St.  James  applied  to  it, — '  the  tongue  is 
a  fire,  a  world  of  iniquity,' — no  stronger  animosity  could  be 

Happily,  this  animosity  is  by  degrees  dying  away ;  but 
only  by  degrees,  as  we  have  seen,  some  writers  during  the 
last  twenty  years  having  been  undergoing  a  sort  of  transition 
state  with  regard  to  the  use  of  the  tongue,  inasmuch  as, 
while  they  have  arrived  at  the  conviction  that  it  does  not 
'  sting,'  they  are  not  yet  quite  clear  as  to  what  it  does  do. 
Some  few  have  even  clung  to  the  lubrication  theory. 
Popular  writers,  to  speak  more  correctly,  not  scientific 
ones.     Still,   it  is   the   popular  writers   who  most   influence 


io8  SNAKES. 

the  casual  reader.  To  satisfy  a  passing  interest,  we  turn 
to  these,  to  the  books  they  quote,  and  next  to  encyclo- 
pedias, and  not  to  scientific  text-books,  where  we  are 
beset  by  technicalities  which  are  in  themselves  a  study 
to  be  first  mastered.  Otherwise,  from  scientific  works  a 
good  deal  might  have  been  learned  long  ago  about  this 
exceedingly  wonderful  organ,  the  tongue  of  a  snake. 

It  is  evident,  however,  that  a  good  many  of  our  drawing- 
room  naturalists  have  not  thought  it  necessary  to  first  devote 
themselves  to  the  scientific  study  of  a  snake's  tongue  before 
they  ventured  to  write  about  it ;  therefore  they  remained 
only  partially  enlightened.  To  such  an  extent  has  the 
supposed  '  lubrication '  prevailed,  that  ophiologists  of  the 
day  have  not  thought  it  too  trivial  to  speak  of  and  to 
refute.  The  same  visitors  to  the  Zoological  Gardens  who 
tell  their  friends  or  children  to  look  at  the  snake's  'sting,' 
also  wait  to  '  see  the  snake  lick  the  rabbit  all  over  before  it 
begins  to  swallow  it.' 

Were  a  painter  to  set  to  work  to  paint  a  house,  or  a 
mason  to  whitewash  the  ceiling,  with  a  camel's-hair  pencil, 
it  would  not  be  a  more  tedious  and  impossible  process  than 
that  of  a  snake  *  licking  all  over  with  its  tongue '  the  body 
of  the  animal  it  is  about  to  devour.  Illustrations,  in  order 
to  be  as  startling  as  possible,  and  to  feed  the  educated 
horror  of  snakes,  often  represent  a  boa  or  an  anaconda  coiled 
round  a  bull  or  some  other  equally  large  and  rough-coated 
animal,  which,  as  the  writer  informs  us,  '  it  was  seen  to  lick 
all  over  and  cover  with  its  mucus.' 

Let  the  reader  reflect  a  moment,  and  he  will  perceive 
what   supply  of  moisture  this  degree  of  lubrication  would 


demand.  Even  were  the  snake's  whole  body  furnished 
with  salivary  glands,  and  were  it  provided  with  a  broad, 
flat  tongue  to  work  with,  what  must  the  rate  of  secretion 
be  to  enable  the  snake  to  go  through  such  a  task,  and  to 
enable  it  to  perform  it  in  a  period  of  time  in  which  a 
spectator  (supposing  he  had  sufficient  powers  of  endurance) 
could  stand  by  and  watch  the  process ! 

Snakes  are,  it  is  true,  supplied  very  abundantly  with  a 
mucous  saliva.  Describing  the  mode  of  swallowing.  Dr. 
Giinther  says :  *  But  for  the  quantity  of  saliva  discharged 
over  the  body  of  the  prey,  deglutition  would  be  slow.' 
Slow  in  comparison  with  the  feeding  of  other  animals  it  is, 
under  any  circumstances,  and  it  would  be  painfully  tedious, 
almost  impossible,  for  the  unfortunate  reptile  to  feed  at  all, 
were  its  difficulties  not  relieved  by  this  '  abundant  supply '  of 
saliva.  But  this  is  not  saying  that  the  tongue  performs  any 
office  in  systematic  lubrication.  It  simply  means  that  the 
mouth  of  the  hungry  snake  'waters  '  over  its  food,  and  waters 
far  more  freely  than  is  the  usual  case  with  other  animals. 
We  ourselves  know  something  of  this  stimulation  of  the 
salivary  glands  at  the  sight  or  smell  of  food  when  we  are 
hungry ;  but  snakes  are  beneficently  provided  with  the 
salivary  apparatus  (described  in  the  first  chapter),  and  the 
mouth  waters  over  its  prey,  as  much  when  the  tongue  is  in 
its  sheath  as  when  the  tongue  is  engaged  in  its  own  peculiar 
and  distinct  functions.  What  the  spectator  does  see  is  this 
tongue  fulfilling  its  office  of  feeling,  examining,  exploring, 
investigating,  ascertaining  whether  the  prey  is  thoroughly 
dead,  and  the  best  way  of  setting  to  work  on  the  great  task 
of  swallowing  the  huge,   rough  mass.      All  this  work  the 

no  SNAKES. 

tongue  does  for  its  owner ;  and  we  shall,  as  I  hope,  see 
before  we  have  done  with  it,  that  so  far  from  exciting  our 
hatred  and  disgust,  there  is  perhaps  no  other  feature  or 
organ  belonging  to  the  helpless  snake  so  important  to  it, 
so  worthy  of  our  own  observation  and  admiration,  as  this 
much-abused  tongue. 

We  have  an  admirable  opportunity  for  study  in  our  visits 
to  the  Zoological  Gardens,  and  there  the  lover  of  nature 
can  decide  for  himself.  Hours  and  hours  has  one  watched, 
and  I  admit  (in  the  early  days  of  my  studies)  waited,  to  see 
this  lubrication  which,  as  the  books  told  me,  was  performed 
by  the  tongue.  Often  and  often  one  has  heard  visitors  say 
to  each  other  when  they  have  seen  the  prey  about  to  be 
devoured,  '  Now  we  shall  see,  or  you  will  see '  (as  the  case 
might  be)  *  the  snake  lick  it  all  over  before  he  swallows  it.' 

An  observation  to  this  effect  was  once  made  in  our  hearing 
while  I  was  on  the  point  of  asking  the  keeper  if  he  had  ever 
observed  anything  of  the  kind,  and  was  telling  him  how 
often  it  had  been  so  stated  in  print. 

*  Snakes  never  did,  and  never  will,  lick  their  prey, 
ma'am,'  returned  Holland  emphatically;  'but  I  have  seen 
the  saliva  flow,  it  is  so  plentiful.'  And  so  have  I,  and  so 
may  you,  patient  reader,  if  you  are  sufficiently  interested  in 
the  subject.  You  will  soon  become  convinced  that  such  a 
process  as  'licking'  is  impossible,  and  you  will  soon  decide 
that  if  the  reptile  did  this  instinctively,  its  tongue  would 
have  developed  into  something  more  like  that  of  a  cat, 
strong  and  rough  with  tiny  spines,  or  some  organ  better 
adapted  to  the  performance  than  a  thin  pencil  or  fork  of 
tender  flesh. 


It  is  much  to  be  regretted  that  a  number  of  anecdotes 
which  describe  this  'lubrication'  have  been  retained  and 
quoted  over  and  over  again  in  books  on  snakes.  Writers 
who  are  conscientiously  instructing  us,  and  who  are  even 
telling  us  '  snakes  do  7iot  lick  their  prey/  quote  the  anecdotes 
which  tell  us  that  they  do,  and  thus  appear  to  favour  the 
assumed  mistake. 

Space  will  not  permit  of  the  numerous  examples  which 
might  be  here  introduced  in  proof  of  this.  Nor  is  it  necessary 
to  name  more  than  two  or  three  of  these  misleading  anec- 
dotes ;  the  reader  will  at  once  recognise  them,  for  they 
appear  everywhere. 

First  comes  the  M'Leod  narrative,  which  has  found  favour 
with  popular  writers  for  no  less  than  sixty-three  years  !  The 
first  edition  of  the  Voyage  of  the  Alceste,  by  Dr.  M'Leod,  the 
surgeon  on  board,  was  published  in  London  in  1817,  a  second 
edition  in  1818,  and  a  third  (so  popular  was  the  work)  in 
1 8 19.  His  account  of  feeding  the  boa  constrictor  was  not 
the  least  popular  part  of  the  little  book  ;  for  in  those  days 
there  were  few  who  knew  what  to  believe  where  a  snake  was 
concerned.  The  account  of  a  goat  being  swallowed  fills 
several  pages,  written  in  a  style  to  exaggerate  horrors,  and 
apparently  deny  to  the  reptile  any  right  to  obey  nature's 
laws.  'The  python  fixed  a  deadly  and  malignant  eye  on 
the  goat : '  .  .  .  '  first  operation  was  to  dart  out  its  forked 
tongue:'  .  .  .  'continued  to  grasp  with  its  fangs:'  .  .  .  'began 
to  prepare  for  swallowing  : '  and  '  commenced  by  lubricating 
with  its  saliva  : '  .  .  .  'commission  of  this  murder,'  etc. 

Maunder,  in  his  Treasury  of  Natural  History,  quotes  this, 
having  previously  stated  (under  the  head  Boa  Constrictor) : 

1 1 2  SNAKES. 

'  The  prey  is  then  prepared  for  being  swallowed,  which  the 
creature  accomplished  by  pushing  the  limbs  into  the  most 
convenient  position,  and  then  covering  the  surface  with  a 
glutinous  saliva!  Though  not  positively  asserted  that  the 
tongue  is  the  agent  in  this  *  covering,'  the  reader  naturally 
jumps  to  this  conclusion.  The  'Penny'  and  several  other 
encyclopedias  quote  the  M'Leod  story,  among  them  the 
Encyclopedia  Britafinica,  ed.  1856,  notwithstanding  the 
compiler  of  the  article  *  Reptilia '  affirms,  '  The  use  of  the 
tongue  is  not  exactly  known.'  Surely  this  licking  over 
an  enormous  mass  of  fur  or  wool,  each  time  the  reptile 
partakes  of  food,  would  be  a  very  important  use  indeed 
of  the  tongue,  did  such  a  process  take  place. 

Mr.  Philip  Henry  Gosse,  in  his  Natural  History  of  Reptiles, 
i860,  repeats  the  M'Leod  story;  but  he  follows  it  up  by 
also  quoting  a  writer,  Broderip,  who  carefully  considered  the 
subject,  and  who  doubted  the  possibility  of  such  a  tongue 
performing  this  office. 

Mr.  Gosse  is  one  of  the  most  popular  of  our  'drawing- 
room'  naturalists.  A  careful  and  conscientious  writer,  he 
has  contributed  in  his  various  works  a  great  deal  of  valu- 
able information,  and  has  done  as  much,  if  not  more,  towards 
inducing  a  taste  for  natural  history  than  any  other  author 
of  his  day  and  class. 

Another  popular  anecdote  much  used  is  that  of  Sir  R. 
Ker  Porter,  who  {cir.  1820-24)  sent  an  anaconda  to  the  United 
Service  Museum,  accompanied  by  an  account  of  its  seizing 
its  prey.  *  In  an  instant  every  bone  is  broken,  and  the  long, 
fleshy  tongue  passes  over  the  entire  form  of  the  lifeless  beast, 
leaving  on  it  a  sort  of  glutinous  saliva  which  greatly  facilitates 


deglutition.'  This  last  clause  was  particularly  striking,  and 
you  find  those  three  words,  'greatly  facilitates  deglutition,' 
used  ever  since  by  more  writers  than  one  can  enumerate. 

A  third  of  the  many  well-worn  anecdotes  in  which  the 
Mubrication '  is  conspicuous,  is  taken  from  a  German  journal, 
the  EphemerideSy  in  which  a  combat  between  a  boa  constrictor 
and  a  buffalo  is  described  in  the  approved  sensational  style, 
and  this  sentence  occurs  : — '  In  order  to  make  the  body  slip 
down  the  throat  more  glibly,  it  (the  snake)  was  seen  to  lick 
the  whole  body  over,  and  thus  cover  it  with  its  mucus.' 

Perhaps  these  three  anecdotes,  copied  from  book  to  book 
for,  say,  only  fifty  years,  have  done  as  much  to  mislead 
regarding  the  second  reputed  use  of  the  tongue,  as  Shaks- 
peare  and  his  predecessors  did  regarding  the  stinging  theory. 

Sir  Robert  Ker  Porter  published  two  very  handsome  quarto 
volumes  (illustrated)  of  his  Travels  in  Georgia,  Persia,  and 
the  East,  during  the  years  18 17  to  1821.  Such  a  work  from 
a  distinguished  traveller  in  that  day  would  soon  grow  into 
popularity ;  but,  like  Dr.  M'Leod,  he  does  not  describe 
his  snake  by  the  cool  light  of  science. 

In  a  very  able  article,  *  Boa '  in  the  good  old  Penu)/ 
Cyclopedia,  dated  1835,  the  writer,  quoted  by  Mr.  Philip 
Henry  Gosse,  mildly  criticises  the  lubrication  theory,  and 
gives  at  length  an  excellent  paper  on  the  subject,  contributed 
to  the  Zoological  Joicrnal  in  1826  by  the  distinguished 
naturalist,  W.  J.  Broderip,  F.L.S.,  etc.^  Very  courteously 
Mr.  Broderip  discusses  Dr.  M'Leod's  description,  and  in 
giving  an  account  of  what  he  himself  witnessed  in 
the    manner   of    a    boa  feeding,    speaks    of  '  the   secretion 

1  Author  of  Zoological  Researches,  and  Leaves  from  the  Notebook  of  a  Naturalist. 


114  SNAKES. 

of  lubricating  mucus  being  excessive,'  and  that  '  the  jaws 
dripped  with  the  mucus  which  had  lubricated  the  parts,' 
but  not  once  mentioning  the  tongue  as  having  any  part 
in  this  function.  The  writer  in  the  Penny  Cyclopedia  con- 
cludes by  saying  that  he  had  himself  frequently  watched 
the  snakes  while  feeding,  and  they  *  never  covered  the  victim  ; 
the  tongue  was  thrust  forth,  but  only,'  etc.  And  yet  so  many 
book-makers  who  must  have  read  this  have  copied  the 
anecdotes  without  the  comment,  and  have  thus  popularized 
the  lingual  lubrication ! 




7i¥^  TONGUE  OF  A  SNAKE. 

PART   111.-/7;?  USES, 

ONE  more  function  in  which  the  tongue  has  no  part  it 
is  important  first  to  mention.  '  It  is  supposed  to  be 
concerned  in  the  function  of  voice,  that  is,  hissing,'  says  Mr. 
Frank  Buckland  in  his  Curiosities  of  Natural  History,  i860. 
Now,  as  this  is  an  extremely  popular  book,  and  as  Mr. 
Buckland  was  a  very  popular  writer,  and  much  quoted  and 
believed  in  from  his  pleasant  and  genial  style,  and  his  many 
opportunities,  it  is  necessary  to  explain  that  the  tongue  is 
often  or  generally  in  its  sheath  while  the  snake  hisses,  and 
therefore  has  no  part  ivhatever  in  the  '  function  of  voice.' 

More  recently  still,  a  writer  in  1876  is  under  the  same 
impression.  It  is  well  known  that  the  contributors  to  that 
excellent  magazine,  the  Leisure  Hour,  are  for  the  most  part 
persons  of  good  literary  standing.  However,  in  the  matter 
of  snakes  we  are  all  only  learners. 

There  are  in  the  magazine  referred  to,  three  chapters  *  On 
Snakes,'  occupying,  with  the  illustrations,  about  eight  pages, 
in  which  the  general  subject  is  treated. 


ii6  SNAKES. 

'  It  is  a  very  general  belief  that  the  sting  of  a  poisonous 
snake  is  in  its  tongue,'  says  this  writer,  '  and  to  any  one  who 
has  seen  an  adder  ready  for  attack,  with  its  body  coiled,  its 
head  and  neck  reared  aloft,  and  its  long,  narrow  tongue, 
split  for  a  considerable  distance  from  the  point  inwards, 
and  thus  resembling  a  two-pronged  fork,  vibrating  rapidly, 
accompanied  by  a  hissing  sound,  the  needle-like  points  of 
the  tongue  have  a  decidedly  stinging  aspect.  It  need  hardly 
be  said  that  the  tongue  is  only  responsible  for  the  hissing.' 
The  hissing  is  from  the  lungs  (see  chap,  ix.),  and,  as  may  be 
repeated,  often  while  the  tongue  is  within  its  sheath,  the 
opening  of  which  is  forward  in  the  mouth. 

The  tongue  of  a  snake  occupies  much  the  same  place  in 
the  lower  jaw  as  that  of  other  animals ;  only  being,  while 
passive,  within  its  sheath,  which  opens  at  the  tip,  the  tongue 
can  move  but  in  one  direction,\t\y,forwai'ds. 

The  illustration  in  the  Leisure  Hour  which  accompanies^ 
the  above  writer's  explanation,  displays  a  rattlesnake  with 
widely-extended  jaws,  and  a  tongue  which,  by  comparison, 
must  be  from  root  to  tip  half  a  foot  in  length,  and  repre- 
sented as  coming  from  far  back  in  the  throat,  as  if  no  sheath 

The  tongue  of  a  snake  not  being  so  planted,  and  not  by 
any  possibility  intercepting  the  breath,  it  is  needless  to 
repeat  that  it  can  never  be  any  agent  of  the  voice,  i.e, 
*  hissing,'  nor  is  it  every  snake  that  does  hiss  (see  chap.  ix.). 
Illustrations  conveying  an  entirely  erroneous  impression 
are  very  much  to  be  regretted,  and  unfortunately  this  mis- 
placing of  the  snake's  tongue  is  an  extremely  common  error, 
and  we  recognise  the  familiar  woodcut  again  and  again  in  a 


number  of  different  publications,  misconceptions  thus  being 
seriously  multiplied.  Bad  illustrations,  even  more  than 
printed  errors,  are  responsible,  because  more  persons  turn 
the  leaves  of  a  book  to  look  at  these,  than  those  who 
read  the  page,  and  a  glance  either  instructs  or  misinforms 
the  eye. 

The  hissing  of  a  snake,  as  we  may  here  add,  is  merely  an 
escape  or  expulsion  of  air  from  the  lungs,  more  or  less  quick 
or  'loud/  as  the  reptile  is  more  or  less  alarmed  or  angry. 
Conjecturally,  one  may  suppose  this  hissing  to  correspond 
with  the  agitated  breathing  or  panting  of  other  animals,  or 
of  an  excited  person. 

In  the  seventeenth  century,  when  travellers  were  visiting 
for  the  first  time  the  newly-settled  colonies  in  America  and 
Africa,  and  when  the  early  explorers  in  various  parts  of  the 
world  were  sending  home  stuffed  specimens  of  animals  (in 
the  days  when  taxidermy,  like  other  sciences,  was  in  its 
infancy),  a  stuffed  snake  was  furnished  with  a  huge,  broad, 
fleshy  tongue,  big  enough  to  crowd  its  entire  mouth,  minus 
teeth  and  gums.^  Whether  this  broad  tongue  was  to  favour 
the  delusion  of  '  licking,'  or  whether  the  licking  was  presup- 
posed from  the  look  of  the  tongue,  we  cannot  say,  but  that 
the  stuffed  specimens  did  encourage  the  delusion  is  clear. 

Our  Philosophical  Society,  founded  about  the  middle  of 
that  century,  and  the  *  Philosophical  Transactions  '  of  those 
days  record  the  first  arrival  of  tropical  serpents  in  England, 
and  the  marvellous  beliefs  concerning  them.     From  them 
we  learn,  nevertheless,  that  many  things  said  to  be  '  new  to 

1  In  the  'Laidley  Worm,' exhibited  at  the  Grosvenor  Galleiy  in    1881,  the 
artist  must  have  copied  one  of  these. 

ii8  SNAKES. 

science '  in  our  own  time,  were  not  unknown  two  centuries 

Passing  by  a  large  number  of  writers  on  snakes,  who, 
being  convinced  that  the  tongue  neither  'stings  '  nor  '  licks' 
nor  '  aids  in  hissing,'  and  who,  therefore,  cursorily  dismiss  it 
with,  '  the  use  of  the  tongue  is  not  known,'  let  us  thoroughly 
examine  for  ourselves  this  mysterious  organ  ;  and  this  we 
can  do  with  the  assistance  of  those  who  have  devoted  care- 
ful attention  to  the  subject. 

Quoting  first  our  English  authorities,  Dr.  J.  E.  Gray  tells 
us :  '  Tongue  very  long,  retractile  into  a  sheath  at  its  base. 
Apex  forked,  very  long,  slender,  and  tapering.' 

Says  Dr.  Giinther :  '  Tongue  long,  vermiform,  forked  ;  an 
organ  of  touch  ;  frequently  and  rapidly  exserted  to  examine 
an  object.  The  slightest  provocation  brings  the  tongue 
into  play.' 

Rymer  Jones,  in  his  Organization  of  the  Animal  Kingdom y 
tells  us  that  'in  snakes  the  bulk  of  the  tongue  is  reduced  to 
the  utmost  extent.  The  whole  organ  seems  converted  into 
a  slender,  bifid  instrument  of  touch,  and  is  covered  with  a 
delicate  membrane.'  Again,  in  Todd's  Cyclopedia  of  Anatomy^ 
the  same  writer  says  that  '  the  tongue  of  a  snake  seems 
to  perform  functions,  the  nature  of  which  is  not  so  obvious  ' 
(as  that  of  some  other  reptiles). 

Der  Hceven  (Clark's  translation)  tells  us  '  the  tongue  of  a 
snake  is  an  organ  of  feeling  or  tact,  and  much  used,  as  the 
antennae  of  insects.' 

It  will  be  observed  that  while  no  two  of  the  above  writers 
use  precisely  the  same  words,  each  helps  us  to  picture  the 
tongue  more  accurately,  and  we  glean  from  each  some  new 


particular.  The  Encyclopedia  Britannica,  after  telling  us  *  the 
use  of  the  tongue  is  not  exactly  known/  adds,  '  they  (the 
snakes)  are  continually  lancing  it  into  the  air,  and  may 
possibly  in  this  way  gather  moisture  from  grass  or  herbage ' 
(alluding  to  the  question  of  '  drinking,'  see  chap.  iv.). 

Professor  Owen  still  further  defines  it  as  a  pair  of  muscles, 
or  a  double  muscle  partly  connected  and  partly  free.  The 
reader  will  prefer  the  learned  Professor's  own  words,  not- 
withstanding the  slight  repetition. 

In  his  Anatomy  of  the    Vertebrates,  p.  463,  after  describing 
the   prehensile    character   of  the    tongue   in   some   reptiles, 
notably  the  toad  and  the  chameleon,  he  says :  *  In  serpents 
the  tongue  takes  no  other  share  in  the  prehension  of  food 
than   by  the  degree  in   which   it   may  assist   in   the  art    of 
drinking.      It   is  very  long,  slender,  cylindrical,  protractile, 
consisting  of  a  pair  of  muscular  cylinders  in  close  connection 
along  the  two  basal  thirds,  but  liberated  from   each  other, 
and  tapering  each  to  a  point  at  the  anterior  third ;  these 
are  in  constant  vibration  when  the  tongue  is  protruded,  and 
are  in  great  part  withdrawn  with  the  undivided  body  of  the 
tongue  into  a  sheath  when  the  organ   is  retracted.'      The 
pair  of  parallel  muscles  can  be  distinguished  in  the  largest 
of  the    accompanying   illustrations,   viz.    the    tongue    of    a 
Jamaica  boa  of  about  8  feet  long.     It  was  cut  out  and  given 
me  immediately  after  the  death  of  the  reptile,  and  while  soft 
and    flexible   was   carefully   copied.      The   hair-like    points 
diminish  to  an  almost  invisible  fineness  impossible  to  repre- 
sent with  pen  or  pencil.     The  slender  little  tongue  is  that  of 
the  young  Jai'-araca  ;  and  the  shortest  is  that  of  the  African 
vipcrling.     I   have  drawn   only  as   much   as   is  usually  ex- 



serted  when  in  use.  The  entire  tongues  are  much  longer,  of 
a  pale  flesh  tint,  and  somewhat  thicker  towards  the  root.  It 
is  observable  that  the  organs,  like  their  possessors,  are  either 
shorter  and  stouter,  or  longer  and  more  slender. 

Three  tongues  from  nature  (exact  size). 

The  reader  will  concur  with  Mr.  P.  H.  Gosse  and  the  Penny 
Cyclopedia,  that  '  no  instrument  is  less  adapted  for  licking.' 

There  is  yet  one  more  of  our  English  scientific  writers 
who  must  be  quoted,  and  who,  though  he  wrote  so  far 
back  as  1834,  shows  us  that  even  then  this  tongue  was 
far  better  understood  by  the  French  and  German  zoologists 
than  ourselves.  Roget,  in  his  Animal  Physiology  (one  of 
the  Bridgewater  Treatises),  says :  *  Hellmann  has  shown  us 
that  the  slender,  bifurcated  tongue  of  snakes  is  used  for 
the  purposes  of  touch.' 

It  is  to  be  regretted  that  we  have  no  translation  of  this 
and  of  several  other  German  ophiologists  of  whom  mention 
is  made  by  Roget  and  others.  Lenz  gives  us  to  understand 
that  in  .1817  Hellmann  had  decided  that  a  snake  uses  its 
tongue  as  an  insect  does  its  antennae.  And  in  watching 
with  unprejudiced  eyes  the  varying  play  of  the  organ,  the 
similarity  of  action  will  at  once  be  recognised. 

After  all,  how  little  can  we  ever  know  of  these  organs 
beyond  conjecture !  Who  shall  say  whether  each  or  both 
may  not  possess  a  sense  of  which  we  ourselves  have  no 
true  perception  }     Close    observers   arc  convinced  that    the 


tongue  of  a  snake  is  endowed  with  peculiar  sensibilities ; 
and  it  is  the  more  astonishing,  therefore,  that  reason  and 
observation  have  so  long  been  blinded  and  enslaved  by 
prejudice  regarding  it. 

Some  naturalists  think  that  the  sense  of  smell  lies  in 
antennae.  The  sense  of  smell  itself  is  dull  in  snakes ;  yet 
they  have  means  of  ascertaining  what  other  animals  learn 
by  smell.  Says  Huxley,  '  The  great  majority  of  the  sensa- 
tions we  call  taste  are  in  reality  complex  sensations,  into 
which  smell  and  even  touch  largely  enter.'  ^  It  is  certain 
that  the  snake's  tongue  is  in  constant  use  for  some  purpose 
or  other,  though  beyond  what  we  see  of  its  form  and  actions 
we  can  only  speculate,  or,  at  best,  draw  conclusions  from 

Both  Dumeril  and  Lenz  give  the  result  of  their  own 
observations.  The  former,  however,  devotes  so  many  pages  to 
the  tongue  and  its  functions  under  the  various  headings  of 
*  touch,'  '  nutrition,'  *  the  senses,'  etc.,  that  it  will  be  necessary 
to  curtail  a  good  deal,  particularly  as  this  great  author  has 
been  quoted  by  those  other  physiologists  whose  words  were 
given  above.  Of  the  sheath  into  which  the  tongue  is  received 
he  says  : — '  Une  gaine  cylindrique,  charnue  ;  mais  I'extrcmitc 
de  cette  langue  est  fourchue,  ou  divisee  en  deux  pointes 
mobiles,  vibrantes,  susceptible  dc  se  mouvoir  independam- 
ment  I'une  de  I'autre,  de  s'ecarter  et  d'etre  lancces,  pour 
ainsi  dire  :  ce  que  la  fait  regarder  par  le  vulgaire  comme  une 
sorte  de  darte,  auquel  meme  quelques  peintres  ont  donnc 
dans  leurs  tableaux  la  forme  d'un  fer  dc  flechc.  Le  vrai  est 
que  cette  langue  est  moUe,  humidc,  trcs  faiblc,  et  que  Ton  a 

^  Elementary  Lessons  in  P/iysiofogy.     London,  1S75. 

122  SNAKES. 

fait  des  conjectures,  plutot  sur  les  usages  auquels  on  I'a  cm 
destinee,  que  sur  I'utilite  reelle  dont  elle  peut  etre  aux 
serpents  dans  Facte  de  la  deglutition  ;  car  les  serpents  ne 
machcnt  jamais  leurs  alimens.'  i  '  Ouoiqu'on  ignore  le 
veritable  usage  de  la  langue  humide  et  charnue  que  les 
serpents  brandissent  et  font  continuellement  sortir  de  la 
bouche  et  vibrer  dans  Fair,  il  est  facile  de  concevoir  qu'a 
cause  de  la  forme  cylindrique  et  de  son  etroitesse  elle 
ne  pourrait  faciliter  la  mastication,  quand  meme  les  dents 
seraient  propres  de  cet  usage.'  ^ 

This  first  volume  of  Erpetologie  gMrale  treats  of  all 
reptiles  inclusively ;  but  in  the  sixth  volume,  where  the 
opJddia  particularly  are  introduced,  the  tongue  is,  with 
the  rest  of  the  organs,  more  minutely  described.  Some 
repetition  necessarily  occurs ;  but  there  is  still  a  good  deal 
that  will  repay  perusal. 

After  stating  that  in  serpents  the  sense  of  touch  is  dull, 
on  account  of  the  integument,  and  the  absence  of  what  may 
be  regarded  as  tactile  organs,  and  that  the  sense  of  smell  is 
dull,  the  nostrils  being  feebly  developed,  Dumeril  adds  :  '  The 
tongue,  though  fleshy,  very  mobile,  and  constantly  moist,  is 
rather  an  especial  instrument  for  touch,  for  the  action  of 
lapping,  and  for  other  functions,  than  to  perceive  the  nature 
of  liquids ; '  in  other  words,  than  as  an  organ  of  taste.  *  It 
is,  however,  very  remarkable ;  though  smooth  and  even 
above,  it  is  furnished  with  little  fringes  or  papillae  along  the 
sides.  Notwithstanding  its  length  and  narrowness,  it  is 
singularly  protractile  and  retractile;  and  in  its  exceedingly 
rapid  vibrations  has   impressed  the   vulgar   with   the    idea 

^  Tome  i.  p.  126  o{  Erpetologie  gcncrale.  •^  Ibid.  p.  135. 


that  it  is  formed  with  the  two  spear-like  points.  It  is 
clothed  with  a  delicate  skin.'  ^ 

Lenz  made  many  interesting  experiments.  In  his 
work  he  gives  us  the  result  of  these,  and  also  what 
some  other  German  ophiologists  had  seen  and  done.  He 
observed  how  entirely  the  snake  trusted  to  its  tongue  in 
any  unusual  circumstances  ;  the  all-important  member  was 
then  in  ceaseless  activity.  Confined  in  a  glass  jar  con- 
taining wine  or  any  liquid  that  the  snake  did  not  like, 
the  tongue  was  ever  agitated.  Crawling  up  the  side,  the 
tongue  was  in  constant  request  to  feel  the  glass  (as  may 
be  often  seen  at  the  Zoological  Gardens) ;  and  on  arriving 
at  the  top,  the  head  was  turned  this  way  and  that,  and 
then  bent  over  the  edge,  as  if  to  make  certain  that  no 
further  obstacle  existed ;  the  tongue  not  for  one  instant 
quiet,  but  exse-ted  sometimes  as  far  forward  as  the  whole 
length  of  the  head,  telling  to  its  owner  all  that  the  other 
senses  could  not  discover. 

Permitting  it  to  touch  his  hand,  he  felt  it  like  the  sweep 
of  a  thread,  so  light  and  delicate.  Too  fine  and  flexible 
to  injure  any  surface,  the  slightest  touch  of  one  or  both 
the  tips  suffices  for  intelligence.  Nay,  sometimes  without 
even  touching — that  is,  without  positive  contact,  but  by 
some  subtle  sense,  it  seems  to  act  as  guide. 

When  the  snake  is  excited  by  fear  or  alarm,  or  when  in 
a  strange  place,  the  activity  of  the  tongue  is  so  great,  the 
vibrations  are  so  rapid,  that  the  eye  cannot  follow  them. 
It  is  like  the  play  of  electricity. 

So  far  from  participating  in  deglutition,  the  snake  with- 

'  Tome  vi.  p.  lOO  q{  Erpctologie gcnerale. 

124  SNAKES. 

draws  the  slender  instrument  into  its  sheath,  which,  while 
feeding,  is  safely  closed.  For  this  highly-endowed  organ 
is  so  guarded  against  injury,  that  the  reptile  has  not  only 
a  place  of  safety  provided,  but  power  to  close  the  mouth  of 
its  scabbard,  lest  dust  or  other  irritating  particles  should 

We  have  only  to  reflect  upon  and  to  observe  the  habits  of 
snakes  to  perceive  the  importance  of  their  tongue  to  them. 
For  the  most  part  nocturnal,  winding  their  way  under  tangled 
masses  of  vegetation,  often  in  dark  caves,  holes,  crevices,  and 
obscure  retreats,  with  their  eyes  so  placed  that  they  can  see 
neither  before  nor  under  them,  and  with  other  senses  only 
feebly  developed,  the  tongue  with  its  sensitive  papillae  feels 
its  way,  and  conveys  impressions  to  its  owner. 

Cats  have  their  whiskers  to  help  them  in  the  dark  ;  moles 
and  mice  have  their  quick  sense  of  smell  to  guide  them  ; 
all  nocturnal  animals  are  gifted  in  some  manner  or  another, 
but  snakes  have  only  their  tongue. 

We  can  now  imagine  the  helpless  condition  of  the  reptile 
if  deprived  of  the  tongue !  Rudolph  Efifeldt,  of  whom  Lenz 
speaks  as  the  '  most  eminent  observer  of  living  snakes,' 
found  that  when  deprived  of  the  tongue,  they  would  neither 
eat  nor  drink,  and,  of  course,  died  after  a  while.  But  Lenz 
had  some  snakes  sent  him  which  had  been  deprived  of 
their  tongues,  and  he  observed  that  though  for  a  time  dull 
and  declining,  they  did  recover,  and  by  and  by  ate  as 
usual.  From  which  we  can  only  conclude  that  snakes, 
like  other  animals,  differ  in  their  powers  of  endurance. 
Some  survive  mutilation  and  suffering,  some  do  not. 

Another  error  in  illustrations  is  to  represent  the  tongue 


far  extended  while  the  mouth  is  wide  open.  Snakes  very 
rarely  open  their  mouths  and  use  their  tongues  at  the 
same  time.  Indeed,  excepting  to  gape,  the  snake  does  not 
generally  open  its  mouth  ;  nor  invariably  keep  it  open  while 
advancing  on  its  prey,  as  illustrations  often  represent. 

Nature  has  further  provided  for  the  safety  of  the  tongue 
by  leaving  a  small  opening  in  the  upper  lip,  or  at  the  point 
of  the  muzzle,  just  where  no  teeth  are  in  the  way,  so  that 
the  snake  can  use  its  tongue  without  exposing  the  sheath 
and  mouth  to  injury.  This  '  chink  in  the  rostral  shield,' 
to  use  technical  language,  permits  the  free  exit  of  the 
tongue  and  the  independent  actions  of  the  two  muscles 
of  which  it  is  formed,  enabling  the  reptile  to  hold  the  two 
fine  tips  close  together  as  one  tip,  while  passing  the  tongue 
through  the  narrow  chink,  and  to  expand  them  afterwards. 

Lenz  never  observed  any  dust  or  small  particles  adher- 
ing to  the  tongue  ;  but  Mr.  Arthur  Nicols,  the  author  of 
Zoological  Notes,  informs  me  that  he  Jias  noticed  little 
fragments  of  rubbish  cling  to  the  tongue  and  carried  into 
the  mouth.  Dr.  Cantor  also  says  :  '  Sea  snakes  make  no 
use  of  the  tongue  while  in  the  water,  but  considerable  use 
of  it  as  a  feeler  when  out  of  the  water.'  He  has  noticed 
*  several  Indian  land  snakes  use  it  to  bring  into  the  mouth 
various  small  bodies,  as  stones,  sand,  twigs,  which  they 
swallow  to  stimulate  digestion.' 

This  is  curious  and  noteworthy.  The  power  or  volition 
which  can  control  the  sheath  and  close  the  valve  can,  no 
doubt,  exclude  these  foreign  particles  ;  as,  while  lapping, 
the  mouth  must  be  moistened  as  well  as  the  interior  of  the 
sheath,  both  it  and  the  tongue  requiring  frequent  lubrication. 

126  SNAKES. 

But  we  have  now  reached  the  confines  of  speculation. 
There  is  enough  of  real  fact  about  this  '  horrid  forked 
tongue '  to  interest  and  astonish  us.  We  find  it  guarded, 
aided,  especially  provided  for,  and  especially  constructed 
and  endowed  ;  especially  harmless  also.  To  the  owner  its 
importance  ranks  not  second  even  to  the  eyes. 

The  importance  of  the  antennae  to  insects  is  evident  to 
all  who  have  ever  watched  the  play  of  those  active  and 
beautifully-elaborate  organs,  their  infinitely  varying  forms 
(often  many  times  the  length  of  the  insect  itself),  their  cease- 
less play  and  independent  action.  Constantly  waving,  they 
lightly  touch  every  contiguous  object;  investigating  on  all 
sides,  they  convey  to  insect  intelligence  all  it  requires  to 
know  regarding  its  environments.  Like  a  herald  or  a  scout, 
they  literally  *  spy  out  the  land,'  and  thus  become  a  guide 
and  a  guard  to  the  tiny  feeble  creature  which  possesses 
them.  Throucrh  them  the  owner  learns  all  that  is  needful 
for  its  well-being. 

Much  as  an  insect  uses  these  exquisitely  -  constructed 
antennae,  so  does  a  snake  its  long,  slender,  pliant,  bifurcate, 
and  highly-sensitive  tongue.  Ever  busy,  ever  vigilant,  ex- 
ploring while  barely  touching  each  surface  within  reach, 
yet  by  night  and  by  day  conveying  with  that  slight  contact 
all  necessary  information  to  its  owner.  Sent  out  with  the 
speed  of  a  flash,  it  telegraphs  back  with  like  quickness  the 
result  of  its  discoveries. 

If  we  may  assign  intelligence  to  any  single  organ,  we 
might  affirm  that  there  is  more  of  what  we  consider  rational 
intelligence  in  the  tongue  of  a  snake  than  in  any  other 
of  its  perceptive  faculties.      Probably  the    most  important 


knowledge  demanded  by  the  reptile  is  conveyed,  or,  at 
least,  confirmed  by  this  organ. 

'  Coloreel  says  Dumeril  of  the  tongue,  as  botanists  say 
of  the  part  of  a  plant  ordinarily  green,  as,  for  instance,  a 
calyx ;  '  coloured,'  but  not  what  colour.  This  is  precisely 
as  we  may  describe  the  colour  of  a  snake's  tongue.  My 
attention  was  first  drawn  to  this  on  reading  one  of  Dr. 
Arthur  Stradling's  communications  to  Land  and  Water, 
April  2,  1 88 1.  *  It  would  be  interesting  to  know  why 
some  snakes  have  red  tongues  and  others  black,'  he 
writes.  *  Here  beside  me,  in  a  glass  case,  are  two  little 
snakes,  both  belonging  to  the  same  genus  {Tropidonotus) 
— a  seven-banded  (T.  leberis),  and  a  moccasin  {T.  fasciatiis), 
both  hailing  from  the  United  States,  and  both  alike  in 
their  habits  and  choice  of  food  ;  yet  it  is  a  case  of  ronge 
et  noir  with  their  lingual  appendages.' 

After  reading  this,  I  noticed  the  varieties  of  colour  in 
all  the  '  forked  tongues '  that  exhibited  themselves  at  the 
Zoological  Gardens.  Black  or  very  dark  tongues,  I  think, 
predominate  ;  and  next  to  black,  brownish  or  olive  tints, 
resembling  those  of  the  snake  itself  But  not  as  a  rule  ;  for 
some  very  light  snakes  have  dark  tongues,  and  the  converse. 
In  two  small  green  tree  snakes  of  distinct  genera,  one  had 
a  pale  pink  or  flesh-coloured  tongue,  and  the  other  a  black 
one.  Some  tongues  are  almost  white,  while  a  few  are  red. 
There  seems  to  be  as  much  caprice  as  in  the  colour  of  the 
human  hair  and  eyes  ;  and  as  physiologists  have  traced 
some  sort  of  connection  or  relationship  with  complexions 
and  constitutions  in  these,  so  ophiologists  may,  after  a  time, 
discover  a  similar  relation  or  sympathy  between  the  colour  of 



a  snake's  tongue  and  its  integument  or  eyes.  At  present,  I 
have  observed  only  so  far  as  that  two  entirely  black  and  two 
entirely  green  snakes  may  present  four  distinct  colours  as 
regards  their  four  tongues,  and  that  many  tints  of  brown, 
black,  and  pink  may  be  seen  in  the  tongues  of  as  many 



ONE  Friday  in  August  1873,  while  watching  a  large 
python,  at  the  Zoological  Gardens,  swallowing  a 
duck  which  it  had  just  killed,  I  was  struck  by  a  singular 
something  projecting  or  hanging  from  the  side  of  the  snake's 
mouth.  It  looked  like  a  kind  of  tube  or  pipe,  about  one 
inch  and  a  half  or  two  inches  of  which  were  visible.  The 
python  had  rather  an  awkward  hold  of  the  duck,  having 
begun  at  the  breast  with  the  neck  doubled  back,  the  head 
forming  some  temporary  impediment  to  the  progress  of  the 
jaws  upon  the  prey.  So  the  strange  protuberance  gave  one 
a  *  sort  of  turn,'  and  a  shudder.  It  looked  as  if  it  might  be 
some  part  of  the  crushed  bird,  and  then  again  it  had  the 
appearance  of  some  internal  arrangement  ;  and  another 
shudder  crept  over  one  as  the  idea  suggested  itself  that  the 
poor  snake  had  ruptured  its  throat  in  some  way.  What 
could  this  queer  thing  be,  hanging  on  one  side,  as  you  see 
the  tongue  of  a  horse  or  dog  sometimes  lolling  sideways 
over  its  lower  jaw  }  While  intently  pondering  and  observing 
this  strange  tube-like  object,  in  size  somewhat  as  big  as  the 

130  SNAKES. 

edge  of  a  thimble,  I  saw  the  end  of  it  moving  of  itself,  an 
orifice  contracting  and  closing  tight,  by  the  loose  skin 
puckering  up,  so  to  speak.  Presently  it  opened,  and  by 
and  by  again  closed  tight,  as  you  see  the  breathing  orifice 
of  the  octopus  contract  and  expand,  open  and  close,  at 
regular  intervals,  only  in  the  present  case  the  intervals  were 
not  regular.  This  strange  tube,  then,  had  life  and  volition 
in  it !     What  could  it  be  } 

Suddenly  a  certain  day  of  one's  childhood  flashed  into 
my  mind,  and  a  certain  scene  of  home.  One  Michaelmas 
Day  it  was,  when,  having  stolen  surreptitiously  into  the 
kitchen  to  coax  the  cook  to  '  let  me  see  the  goose  ! '  I  found 
her  busy  preparing  the  bird,  and  clambered  into  a  chair  to 
watch  her.  *  What's  that  ? '  I  demanded,  seeing  part  of  a 
long,  pipe-like  looking  thing  lying  there. 

*  Oh,  that's  the  windpipe.  That's  like  what  you've  got 
in  your  throat ;  and  that's  where  the  crumbs  get  to  make 
you  choke  so,'  in  allusion  to  a  recent  occurrence. 

I  gazed  with  awe  and  interest  at  that  very  strange  thing, 
and  wondered  if  it  really  could  be  like  anything  in  my  own 
throat,  and  where  it  began  and  ended,  and  so  on.  And 
that  goose's  windpipe  was  indelibly  stamped  on  my 

And  now  that  scene  came  vividly  back  to  me,  for  there 
was  a  windpipe  sort  of  look  about  this  appendage  to  the 
snake's  jaw,  only  it  did  not  appear  to  be  bruised  or  injured, 
in  any  way.  Nor  from  the  position  of  the  duck  (by  this 
time  half  swallowed)  could  it  belong  to  the  bird.  And, 
again,  it  moved  with  an  independent  motion  ! 

And  now  the  snake  threw  up  its  head,  to  free  the  legs  of 


the  duck  from  its  folds  where  it  had  been  held,  and  as  you 
see  horses  toss  up  their  heads  to  get  the  grain  in  the  bag 
hung  on  their  noses,  and  I  saw  the  tube-like  object  still 
more  plainly.  Then,  with  a  strange,  awe-struck  feeling, 
came  a  conviction  that  this  could  be  nothing  less  than  the 
poor  snake's  windpipe,  and  that  something  must  be  very 
wrong  with  it. 

I  beckoned  to  the  keeper,  and  pointed  to  it,  telling  him, 
'  I  do  think  that  must  be  its  windpipe.     Is  it  hurt } ' 

The  keeper  said,  '  No,  the  snake  was  not  hurt.  That  he 
had  often  seen  it  like  that  when  the  snakes  were  feeding ; 
and  that  he  also  thought  it  must  be  the  windpipe,  to  enable 
the  snake  to  breathe  while  feeding.' 

Next  day,  with  eager  steps  and  excited  curiosity,  I  hurried 
to  the  British  Museum  reading-room,  thinking  I  had  made 
a  wonderful  discovery,  for  I  had  never  heard  this  strange 
phenomenon  alluded  to,  and  the  keeper  evidently  knew  very 
little  about  it. 

With  this  great  secret  on  my  mind,  I  flew  to  the  well- 
known  shelves,  to  secure  those  books  which  would  certainly 
enlighten  me  if  information  were  to  be  had.  Alas  !  for  my 
wonderful  discovery,  though  it  really  had  been  a  portion  of 
the  windpipe  which  was  thus  extended  from  the  mouth,  it 
was  what  had  been  known  long  ago  by  those  physiologists 
who  had  studied  the  anatomy  of  the  ophidia,  and  it  was  as 
coolly  described  as  if  it  were  the  commonest  occurrence  in 
the  world  for  creatures  to  do  what  they  pleased  with  their 
windpipe ! 

Says  Professor  Owen  in  his  Anatomy  of  the  Vertebrates, 
vol.  1.  p.  525  :  'The  glottis  of  serpents  can  be  drawn  forward 

1.^2  SNAKES. 

and  protruded  from  the  mouth  by  the  action  of  (certain 
surrounding)  '  muscles.  In  marine  serpents  the  glottis  is 
situated  very  near  the  fore  part  of  the  mouth,  and  the  air 
can  be  inspired  at  the  surface  of  the  water  without  exposure 
of  the  jaws.' 

The  lungs  of  snakes,  then,  are  supplied  with  air  through 
that  moveable  tube,  and  the  '  glottis,'  which  is  the  mouth  or 
opening  of  what  may  here  be  called  the  air-tube,  not  to 
venture  on  scientific  terms,  was  what  I  had  seen  '  puckered 
up,'  as  it  appeared. 

We  may  briefly  remind  the  reader  that  our  own  throats 
contain  two  passages,  one  to  the  lungs,  the  other  to  the 
stomach  ;  and  in  order  that  the  air  passage  may  be  safely 
guarded  from  the  entrance  of  any  foreign  particles,  there 
are  various  parts,  valves,  and  muscles  which  come  into  play 
with  the  action  of  swallowing,  each  and  all  having  technical 
names,  larynx,  pharynx,  glottis,  epiglottis,  etc.,  which  need 
not  be  here  described.  But  in  the  adaptive  development  of 
those  wonderful  creatures,  snakes,  the  entrance  or  mouth 
of  the  windpipe — which  begins  i7i  their  mouth — can  not  only 
be  closed  at  will,  but  still  further  to  protect  the  passage, 
and  also  to  enable  the  reptiles  to  breathe  during  the  long 
process  of  swallowing,  they  can  absolutely  bring  the  appa- 
ratus forward,  even  beyond  their  mouths  ;  and  this  was  what 
had  so  surprised  me  on  witnessing  it. 

The  glottis,  being  the  soft,  membranous  end  or  aperture, 
was  what  opened  and  closed,  expanded  and  contracted,  by 
that  sort  of  puckering  up  and  loosening  again  that  was 
observable,  and  which  here  was  rounded,  but  in  the  higher 
animals  is  a  narrow,  lip-like  slit. 


Some  physiologists,  in  describing  this  *  air-tube '  of  ser- 
pents, speak  of  it  as  the  laiynx,  which  is  what  we  unscientific 
folk  would  call  the  entrance  to,  or  the  upper  portion  of,  the 
true  windpipe  or  trachea.  Others,  again,  affirm  that  they 
saw  the  '  windpipe  '  projecting.  After  all,  much  less  has 
been  said  about  it  than  one  could  wish  ;  and  what  is  said  is 
somewhat  conflicting,  perhaps  on  account  of  the  obscurity 
connected  with  this  surprising  adaptation  of  means  to 
necessities.  A  thorough  examination  of  the  position  of  the 
trachea  of  snakes  while  feeding,  and  a  perfect  realization  of 
its  functions,  could  only  be  obtained  were  it  possible  to 
arrest  the  process  of  feeding  by  the  instantaneous  death  of 
the  feeder,  and  while  every  muscle  of  the  snake's  mouth 
remained  in  position.  Even  then,  one  could  not  be  positive, 
as  snakes  are  endowed  with  the  astonishing  power  of  carry- 
ing out  their  intentions,  or,  in  common  language,  '  going  on 
with  their  business,'  even  after  death.  That  is  to  say,  owing 
to  the  irritability  of  their  muscles,  the  action  which  they 
were  about  to  perform  (as,  for  instance,  springing  at  a  foe) 
continues  should  the  head  be  shot  off  at  the  moment  of 
making  the  attempt.  In  p.  56  and  chap.  xxi.  some  remark- 
able elucidations  of  this  are  given. 

The  general  appearance  of  a  windpipe  is  familiar  to 
every  one.  It  is  formed  of  a  series  of  rings  or  hoops, 
partially  cartilaginous  in  mammals  ;  that  is  to  say,  they 
are  incomplete  behind,  where  their  ends  are  united  by 
muscle  and  membrane,  and  come  in  contact  with  the 
gullet ;  but  in  serpents  the  rings  are  entire,  the  ends  of 
each  being  joined  together  by  an  elastic  substance.  The 
rings   themselves   are   also    connected   with    each   other   by 

134  SNAKES. 

elastic  membranes,  so  that  the  windpipe  is  capable  of 
being  extended  like  an  india-rubber  tube,  and  of  regaining 
its  former  position. 

The  length  of  it  naturally  varies  according  to  the  size 
and  species  of  serpent ;  but  as  a  rule  it  is  always 
much  longer  comparatively  than  in  man.  In  a  full-sized 
rattlesnake,  the  trachea  is  about  tw^enty  inches  long.  In 
a  boa  constrictor,  also,  though  a  much  larger  snake,  it 
measures  about  the  same.  In  smaller  snakes  it  is,  of 
course,  much  shorter ;  but  there  is  the  same  singular 
diversity  in  this  as  we  find  in  other  serpent  anomalies, 
viz.  a  great  variation  in  the  length  in  snakes  of  equal 
size,  and  without  any  very  apparent  reason. 

Bingley,  in  his  Animal  Biography^  1820,  describes  the 
appearance  of  a  large  snake  (M'Leod's  celebrated  boa) 
when  gorging  a  goat ;  but  the  account,  like  those  of  that 
time,  is  more  sensational  than  scientific.  *  His  cheeks  were 
immensely  dilated,  and  appeared  to  be  bursting,  and  his 
wijidpipe  projected  three  inches  beyond  his  jaws.' 

Broderip,  a  few  years  later,  1825,  more  lucidly  and  dis- 
passionately describes  what  he  had  observed.  '  I  have 
uniformly  found  that  the  larynx  is,  during  the  operation 
of  swallowing,  protruded  sometimes  as  much  as  a  quarter 
of  an  inch  beyond  the  edge  of  the  dilated  lower  jaw.  I 
have  seen,  in  company  with  others,  the  valves  of  the  glottis 
open  and  shut,  and  the  dead  rabbit's  fur  immediately  before 
the  aperture  stirred,  apparently  by  the  serpent's  breath, 
when  his  jaws  and  throat  were  stiff,  and  stretched  to  excess ' 
{^Zoological  Journal,  \\.  1826).  This  account  is  quoted  from 
the  paper  entitled,  '  Some  Account  of  the   Mode  in  which 


the  Boa  Constrictor  takes  its  Prey,  and  of  the  Adaptation 
of  its  Organization  to  its  Habits,'  by  W.  J.  Broderip,  Esq., 
F.L.S.  The  paper  was  written  as  a  criticism  of  the  M'Leod 

I,  also,  on  several  occasions,  saw  the  fur  or  feathers  stirred 
by  air  when  the  mouth  or  valve  opened  of  what  we  may  safely 
call  the  air-tube,  whether  larynx  or  trachea. 

Though  so  rarely  mentioned  in  popular  books  on  snakes, 
this  surprising  modification  of  the  breathing  apparatus  was 
described  by  the  indefatigable  Dr.  Edward  Tyson,  on  his 
dissection  of  the  first  rattlesnake  that  fell  into  the  hands 
of  the  Royal  Society,  1683,  and  whose  paper  on  the  Vipera 
caiidiso7ia,  as  he  named  it,  is  quoted  in  chapters  xvi.  and  xx. 
*  Over  the  tongue  did  lye  the  larynx,  not  formed  with  that 
variety  of  cartilages  as  is  usual  in  other  animals,  but  so  as 
to  make  a  rime  or  slit  for  receiving  or  conveying  out  the 
air.  Nor  was  there  any  epiglottis  for  preventing  other 
bodies  from  slipping  in,  this  being  sufficiently  provided  for 
by  the  strict  closure  of  it.'  1 

Dr.  Tyson  examined  only  a  dead  specimen,  and  could 
not  therefore  witness  the  action  observable  in  life ;  but  his 
remarkable  accuracy  in  describing  the  parts  will  be  evident 
in  comparing  what  he  said  with  Dumeril,  who  did  observe 
the  living  reptiles.  The  confusion  which  sometimes  occurs 
in  distinguishing  the  parts  may  be  also  explained  by  the 
less  complicated  structure  of  the  tube,  which  in  higher 
animals  presents  the  nicer  distinctions  of  the  parts,  glottis, 
epiglottis,  larynx,  etc. 

'II   n'y   a  pas  de  veritable   larynx,  une  petite  languette 

^  Philosophical  Transactions,  vol.  xiii.  p.  25.      16S4. 

136  SNAKES. 

mobile  qui  s'ajuste,  surl'ouvcrture  lin^aire  ;  c'est  la  glotte.  .  .  . 
La  glotte,  situee  au-dessous  de  la  victime,  se  porte  en  avant, 
et  Tacte  de  respiration  ne  se  trouve  point  empeche.  C'est 
que  nous  avons  indique  a  I'article  de  la  deglutition  ;  car  on 
voit  distinctement  alors  la  glotte  se  fermer  et  se  d^later.'  ^ 

This  petite  langnette  became  a  new  object  of  curiosity, 
and  soon  came  fresh  opportunities  for  observation,  namely, 
when  some  of  the  larger  snakes  were  engaged  in  yawning.  On 
account  of  its  extreme  mobility,  you  do  not  always  detect 
the  form  of  this  little  point  on  the  upper  lip,  which  as  often 
as  not  presents  a  rounded  opening  ;  but  occasionally  the 
little  tongue — which  can  be  nothing  but  an  apology  for  an 
epiglottis — is  very  distinct,  and  may  be  compared  with  the 
moveable,  pointed  snout  of  some  of  the  large  pachyderms, 
or,  still  better,  with  an  exactly  similar  formation  at  the  end 
of  the  elephant's  trunk,  and  which,  though  for  a  different 
purpose,  moves  similarly. 

As  to  the  exact  position  of  this  glottis  when  at  rest,  a  word 
or  two  must  be  said  ;  for  a  number  of  prepositions  have  been 
used  to  describe  it.  One  writer  says  '  beneath '  the  tongue 
sheath,  others  say  '  beyond,'  others  again  '  before ; '  '  over,' 
'above,'  '  behind,'  'in  front  of,'  have  been  variously  used,  and 
all  depending  on  which  way  the  snake  is  viewed  ;  but  without 
drawing  upon  half  a  score  of  prepositions  to  puzzle  the 
reader,  as  I  myself  was  sorely  puzzled  until  a  yawning 
snake  was  so  kind  as  to  afford  me  an  ocular  scrutiny  of  its 
lingual  arrangements,  we  can  easily  comprehend  where  a 
passage  to  the  windpipe  and  lungs  must  necessarily  be,  and 
which,  it  is  clear,  is  not  under  the  tongue.     When  a  snake's 

^  Erpitologie generak,  tome  vi.  p.  \']'j  et  scq. 


head  is  raised,  as  in  crawling  up  a  wall  or  a  tree,  the  glottis 
may  be  said  to  be  'beneath'  or  'under;'  but  the  general 
position  of  a  snake  being  horizontal,  the  mouth  then  opened 
would  show  you  the  opening  of  the  tongue  sheath  nearest  to 
you  and  to  the  front ;  and  beyond  that,  behind,  over,  or  upon 
the  tongue  sheath,  is  another  aperture,  which  is  the  glottis  or 
entrance  to  the  larynx  and  trachea  or  windpipe. 

So  there  are  in  fact  two  sheaths  or  tubes  lying  one  upon 
the  other,  viz.  the  tongue  sheath,  and  upon  this  and  parallel 
with  it,  the  windpipe. 

After  becoming  better  acquainted  with  the  nature  of  that 
tube  which  had  impressed  me  so  strangely,  I  lost  no  oppor- 
tunity of  making  further  observations,  and  on  the  following 
feeding  day  at  the  Gardens  I  saw  the  air-tubes  of  several 
snakes  plainly.  In  September  of  that  year,  a  new  '  Horse- 
shoe'  snake  {Zanienis  Jiippocrepis)  arrived  from  Morocco.  It 
was  a  small  and  very  pretty  snake,  and  while  enjoying  the 
privilege  of  a  private  inspection,  the  keeper  got  its  mouth 
open  for  me,  enabling  me  to  see  the  glottis,  as  well  as  to 
both  see  and /^^/ the  four  upper  rows  of  its  beautiful  little 
teeth,  closely  placed,  and  as  sharp  as  the  finest  pins.  But 
the  action  of  the  air-tube  was  very  distinct.  Probably  little 
Zanienis  was  breathrng  harder  and  nervously  under  the 
detention,  but  no  word  better  describes  the  formation  of  the 
aperture  of  the  perfectly  rounded  tube,  and  the  movement 
of  it,  than  iho.  petite  languette. 

Subsequently,  there  were  opportunities  of  observing  the 
air-tube  in  two  of  the  large  African  vipers,  the  '  River  Jack ' 
or  '  Nose-horned  '  vipers  (  Vipera  rJdnosceros)  occupying  the 
same  cage.     Each  struck  a  guinea-pig  and  held  it.     One  of 

138  SNAKES. 

them  began  to  eat  his  before  it  was  quite  dead,  and  had 
finished  it  before  his  friend  had  begun.  In  his  case,  the  air- 
pipe  was  at  the  side  of  his  distended  jaws.  In  the  other,  it 
projected  more  than  half  an  inch  beneath,  nearly  in  the 

This  happened  on  a  mild,  damp  day  in  November  1873, 
and  after  that  I  saw  the  tube  in  '  several  snakes,'  but  I 
regret  the  names  were  not  entered  in  my  notebook  at  the 
time.  In  the  smaller  non-venomous  snakes,  or  in  the  lacer- 
tines — of  which  there  were  then  a  large  number — I  do  not 
remember  to  have  observed  it.  They  despatch  their  frog 
or  mouse  so  quickly  that  they  would  scarcely  need  a  fresh 
supply  of  air  meanwhile.  In  the  larger  vipers,  rattlesnakes, 
and  constrictors,  the  air-tube  was  undoubtedly  witnessed. 
Winter  then  terminated  my  observations,  and  afterwards  a 
prolonged  absence  from  town.  Unfortunately,  when  ob- 
servations were  about  to  be  resumed,  the  change  of  the  plans 
at  the  Zoological  Gardens,  and  the  exclusion  of  the  public, 
defeated  my  intentions,  though  on  one  occasion  I  did  see 
the  windpipe  of  little  Matrix  torquata  very  distinctly ;  and 
this  was  the  smallest  snake  in  which  I  had  ever  observed  it. 
Natrix  had  nearly  disposed  of  a  large  frog.  The  whole  of 
it  was  in  his  mouth,  which  was  widely  expanded,  and  the 
air-tube  was  protruded  sideways,  not  oict  of  the  mouth,  but 
sufficiently  forward  to  enable  one  to  distinguish  its  form,  and 
the  action  of  the  petite  languette.  The  prey  being  unusually 
large,  the  snake  had  needed  air  while  swallowing  it. 

On  several  occasions  in  snakes  recently  dead,  and  of 
various  sizes,  one  has  been  able  to  notice  how  admirably 
this  tube,  which  lies   along  the  mouth  like  a  soft  cushion, 


somewhat  in  the  form  of  a  parrot's  tongue,  is  supplied  with 
space  in  the  roof,  arched  to  fit  it,  the  palate  teeth  enclosing  it 
on  each  side,  w^hile  the  opening,  or  glottis,  exactly  meets  the 
nostrils,  les  arrieres  7tez,  bringing  it  into  communication  with 
the  outer  air. 

In  a  little  Coluber,  just  dead,  I  again  had  an  oppor- 
tunity of  making  observations.  The  membranous  coating 
was  so  thin  and  transparent  that  the  rings  of  the  windpipe 
could  be  very  distinctly  traced  from  a  quite  forward  position 
in  the  mouth,  and  beginning  on  and  over  the  tongue  sheath. 
The  surrounding  skin  or  membrane  was  also  loose  and 
abundant,  so  that  with  the  point  of  a  needle  the  upper  part 
of  the  windpipe  could  be  easily  drawn  forward  beyond  the 
lips.  In  life  the  little  snake  could  thus  have  voluntarily 
protruded  it  as  occasion  required. 

Another  day  the  large  reticulated  python  seemed  to 
intentionally  gratify  my  curiosity  by  affording  me  a  most 
leisurely  and  excellent  opportunity  for  observation.  His 
head  was  raised,  and  so  close  to  the  glass  that  the  process 
of  swallowing  could  be  watched  conveniently.  The  final 
swallow,  or  successive  efforts  at  the  last  were,  as  usual, 
attended  with  frequent  yawns.  The  glottis,  as  could  on 
these  occasions  be  distinctly  seen,  was  repeatedly  opened 
and  closed,  and  after  being  extended  beyond  the  mouth,  it 
gradually  resumed  its  natural  position.  While  the  prey 
occupied  the  entire  space  between  the  gaping  jaws,  one 
could  see  the  air-tube  pushed  forward  be7ieath ;  but  as  by 
degrees  the  duck  disappeared  down  the  throat,  the  interior 
of  the  mouth  could  be  better  and  better  observed.  In  this 
large  snake  the  membrane  or  skin  was  too  thick  to  enable 

140  SNAKES. 

one  to  discern  rings  as  in  the  little  Coluber ;  but  as  the 
larynx  is  merely  the  upper  part  of  the  trachea,  and  as  the 
glottis  is  the  mere  membranous  opening  to  the  larynx,  it 
seems  evident  that  the  windpipe  itself  is  also  extensible,  the 
windpipe  being,  indeed,  the  only  portion  of  the  air-tube 
sufficiently  firm  and  resisting  to  aid  the  purpose  of  respira- 
tion under  such  conditions. 

The  exact  distance  which  the  tube  is  extended  cannot 
be  accurately  stated.  It  would  not  be  equally  protruded 
in  snakes  of  different  sizes  nor  under  different  conditions. 
Broderip  saw  it '  as  much  as  a  quarter  of  an  inch.'  Bingley,  an 
earlier  and  a  less  safe  authority,  says  'the  windpipe  projected 
thi'ce  inches  beyond  his  jaws.'  The  keeper  at  the  Gardens 
thought  he  had  sometimes  seen  it  'as  much  as  two  inches  in  the 
largest  snakes ; '  and  my  own  impression  was,  one  inch,  at 
least,  in  the  python,  and  almost  that  in  the  large  vipers. 

It  is  undoubtedly  one  of  those  interesting  features  worthy 
of  further  investigation,  and  one  is  surprised  that  more 
accurate  information  regarding  it  has  not  appeared  in  our 
later  encyclopedias  and  in  the  '  Proceedings  of  the  Zoologi- 
cal Societies.' 

So  long  ago  as  1826,  it  was  observed  and  confirmed  by 
the  distinguished  author  of  Zoological  Researches,  and  Leaves 
from  the  Notebook  of  a  Naturalist.  The  author  of  British 
Reptiles,  who  conducted  the  Zoological  fotirnal  when  Mr. 
Broderip  contributed  the  valuable  paper  above  quoted, 
added  a  note  by  special  request,  stating  that  his  own  'not 
unfrequent  observations  have  on  every  point  been  completely 
confirmatory  of  those  above  recorded '  by  W.  J.  Broderip, 


A  very  good  account  of  the  whole  is  quoted  in  the 
Pe?iny  Magazine,  1836,  and  we  are^therein  further  enlightened 
by  reading  that  Joseph  Henry  Green,  Esq.,  F.R.S.,  in  one 
of  his  lectures  at  the  Royal  College  of  Surgeons,  alluded  to 
Broderip's  paper  '  On  the  Mode  in  which  Constrictors  swallow 
their  Prey,'  and  which  had  drawn  his  attention  to  the  state- 
ment about  the  larynx,  and  led  him  to  examine  the  mouth 
of  a  snake. 

In  process  of  dissection,  he  detected  two  muscles  in  the 
lower  jaw,  evidently  intended  for  the  purpose  of  bringing 
the  larynx  forward  ;  how  far  forward  and  how  much  of  the 
true  windpipe  was  also  brought  forward,  he  did  not  say. 
But  this  in  a  dead  specimen  could  scarcely  be  affirmed  with 

From  the  large  size  of  their  prey,  and  the  jaws  being 
stretched  open  and  gorged  to  their  utmost  capacity,  it  is 
plain  that  snakes  cannot  breathe  freely  in  the  ordinary 
manner  while  feeding,  a  process  sometimes  of  an  hour  or 
more.  Owing  to  the  construction  of  their  lungs  and  their 
capability  to  contain  a  large  volume  of  air,  they  do  not 
require  to  breathe  frequently ;  still  they  do  occasionally 
take  a  fresh  inspiration,  and  their  needs  are  met  by  this 
wonderful  arrangement  of  the  breathing  apparatus. 



FOLLOWING  on  the  subject  of  the  last  chapter  comes 
that  of  respiration  ;  and  in  connection  with  breathing 
is  the  *  voice/  so  far  as  this  class  of  animals  can  be  said  to 
possess  a  voice. 

As  already  seen  in  the  description  of  the  glottis,  serpents 
do  not  breathe  in  the  ordinary  way,  with  short  and  regular 
inspirations,  but  when  they  do  respire,  they  take  in  a  supply 
of  air  to  last  them  for  some  time.     Their  lungs,  instead  of 
occupying  one  particular  portion  of  the  body  corresponding 
with  the  chest  of  the  higher  animals,  are  less   developed. 
One  lung — or  what  Professor  Owen  calls  the  long  pulmonary 
bag — of  snakes  extends  along  more  than  half  of  their  body  ; 
in    some   species    nearly  to   the   anus.      Only  one   lung  is 
normal,   the  other   is   rudimentary.      The  circulation   is  so 
arranged  that  on  each  contraction  of  the  heart  only  a  part 
of  the  blood  is  exposed    to   the  influence  of  the  air  and 
becomes  oxygenated,  the  rest  returning  to  the  parts  without 
having   undergone   the   action  of  respiration    at   all.      The 
blood  is,  in  consequence,  poor  in  red  corpuscles,  its  circula- 



tion  is  comparatively  languid,  the  reptile  becomes  easily 
torpid,  and  its  temperature  is  influenced  by  the  surrounding 
atmosphere  more  than  by  the  vigour  of  its  own  functions. 
This  is  why,  when  not  excited  to  activity  by  external 
warmth,  reptiles  can  pass  a  long  time  without  food.  Having 
no  fixed  temperature  to  maintain,  one  important  source  of 
demand  for  food  is  withdrawn. 

The  air  enters  their  lungs  chiefly  in  a  direct  course  from 
the  nostrils,  only  by  the  mouth  when  open.  If  you  observe 
the  flatness  of  the  head,  and  the  very  short  space  that  can 
exist  between  the  nose  and  the  mouth  of  snakes,  you  will 
readily  trace  the  communication  between  the  entrance  to 
the  trachea  and  the  outer  air  through  the  nostrils  when  the 
glottis  is  not  closed.  Professor  Owen,  in  his  Anatomy  of 
the  Vertebrates,  vol.  i.  p.  528,  describes  this  process  fully. 
In  the  foregoing  description  I  have  borrowed  from  him, 
as  well  as  from  Dr.  Carpenter,  Todd,  and  others ;  but  as 
there  is  nothing  like  '  seeing  for  oneself,'  I  would  persuade 
my  readers  to  watch  a  snake  for  a  few  minutes.  An  in- 
spiration at  intervals  will  be  easily  discerned  by  the  expan- 
sion of  the  body.  You  will  also  perceive  partial  or  slighter 
breathings,  and  the  trunk  dilating  and  expanding  gently 
through  a  sort  of  internal  respiration  which  is  going  on  ; 
every  now  and  then  comes  the  deeper,  fuller  breath. 

You  may  perceive  that  sometimes  one  short  portion  of 
the  body  expands,  as  if  the  lung  in  that  part  only  were 
at  work.  This  is  more  easily  seen  in  the  larger  snakes. 
I  have  watched  these  for  a  quarter  of  an  hour  or  more  at 
a  time,  during  which  period  only  a  comparatively  short 
portion    of    the    body    showed     any    signs    of    breathing. 

144  SNAKES. 

Schlegel,  who  carefully  studied  this  action,  observed  some- 
times as  many  as  thirty  such  partial  dilatations  of  the  trunk 
and  lung  between  two  full  inspirations. 

In  the  large  reticulated  python  I  once  saw  that  about 
two  feet  of  the  body,  viz.  four  to  six  feet  from  the  head, 
dilated  with  occasional  and  irregular  inspirations,  and  no 
other  part.  By  and  by  slight  indications  of  breathing  were 
observable  much  lower  down,  many  feet  apart  from  the 
previous  action,  while  during  the  whole  time  I  was  watch- 
ing I  saw  not  one  full  and  entire  inflation  of  the  lungs. 
This  was  on  a  rather  chilly  September  afternoon,  and 
the  python  had  partaken  of  a  couple  of  ducks  for  dinner 
the  previous  day,  and  it  was  a  time  when  inactivity  is 
usual.  In  a  rattlesnake,  on  the  same  day,  similar  partial 
and  irregular  respirations  were  observable,  this  serpent 
having  caused  four  rats  to  disappear  at  his  last  night's 

Sometimes  you  can  discern  no  indication  whatever  of 
breathing  for  a  very  long  time.  When  the  reptiles  are  not 
in  health,  when  they  are  about  to  cast  their  skin,  or  when 
in  a  half-torpid  condition,  you  may  observe  this. 

When  a  snake  yawns — a  long  and  leisurely  proceeding — 
the  lungs  are  doubtless  greatly  refreshed  ;  otherwise  these 
reptiles  do  not  rest  with  their  mouths  open,  and  the 
only  possible  access  of  outer  air  by  the  lips  being  through 
the  chink  appropriated  to  the  service  of  the  tongue  (and 
which  is  as  exactly  opposite  the  opening  of  the  tongue- 
sheath  as  the  nostrils  are  opposite  to  the  glottis),  they  must 
breathe  almost  entirely  through  the  nose,  except  zuheu 


From  the  elongated  form  of  the  puhnonary  bag,  and 
the  large  volume  of  air  which  it  contains,  we  can  under- 
stand not  only  how  a  temporary  suspension  of  respiration 
can  be  supported,  but  we  comprehend  how  it  is  that  these 
reptiles  can  remain  under  water  for  long  periods,  as  they 
often  do, — not  because  they  breathe  in  the  water,  but 
because  they  can  for  a  while  do  without  breathing. 

Snakes  have  been  seen  to  remain  perfectly  quiet  at  the 
bottom  of  a  clear  stream  for  half  an  hour  or  more.  Some- 
times in  this  totally  quiescent  state  one  has  been  supposed 
to  be  dead,  until,  on  a  stone  being  thrown,  it  has  darted 
away  like  a  fish.  None  of  the  aquatic  birds  or  the  cetaceous 
mammalia  can  remain  so  long  under  water  without  coming 
to  the  surface  to  breathe  as  serpents  can. 

At  the  Zoological  Gardens  they  remain  for  hours  at  a 
time  in  their  tanks.  Often  you  will  see  a  head  peeping 
out — which,  unfortunately,  is  all  we  can  see — while  the  bath 
is  being  enjoyed,  but  as  often  the  head  is  also  immersed, 
though,  of  course,  for  a  shorter  interval,  the  snake  lifting  it 
to  breathe  occasionally. 

We  can  imagine  also  the  great  assistance  in  swimming 
which  this  long  air-receptacle  must  be,  these  reptiles  deriv- 
ing from  it  the  same  advantage,  says  Professor  Owen,  '  as 
an  eel  from  its  swim-bladder.'  In  chap.  xii.  is  described 
the  almost  swimming  motion  of  the  more  active  snakes 
when  gliding  through  long  grass,  or  effecting  progress  over 
a  very  smooth  surface.  In  the  water  the  action  is  similar 
— that  is,  the  progression  is  by  lateral  undulations,  the  tail 
being  the  chief  propelling  power.  Whether  through  the 
resisting  medium  of  water,  or  beating  the  air,  so  to  speak. 


146  SJVAKES. 

when  skimming  over  smooth  or  unresisting  surfaces,  this 
swimming  motion  is  ever  easy  and  graceful.  In  the  chapter 
on  Tails,  we  shall  see  what  an  important  agent  in  progression 
is  this  limb,  whether  by  pressure,  as  in  the  burrowing 
snakes,  or  by  its  oar-like  or  paddle -like  use  in  rapid 

To  recapitulate  the  above  in  a  few  words — first,  respira- 
tion warms  the  blood ;  snakes  are  cold-blooded  because 
only  a  portion  of  the  blood  passes  through  the  lungs  to 
become  oxygenated,  and  in  proportion  to  the  diminution 
of  the  quantity  of  blood  transmitted  to  the  lungs,  so  does 
respiration  become  weaker ;  therefore  reptiles  are  less  de- 
pendent on  breathing. 

Regarding  the  '  voice; '  of  serpents,  so  surprising  are  the 
qualities  attributed  to  it,  that  one  would  imagine  the  exist- 
ence of  varieties  of  snakes  of  widely  differing  organizations. 
If  we  were  to  believe  all  we  read  of  the  sounds  they  produce. 
'Hissing  loudly,'  or  'whistling,'  Is  the  rule.  No  ordinary 
writer  or  traveller  who  says  a  word  about  a  snake  ever 
heard  it  hiss  anything  but  'loudly,'  a  statement  traceable 
to  the  same  sentiment  which  causes  persons  to  talk  of  the 
Miorrid  forked  tongue.'  A  benevolently -disposed  snake 
who  would  warn  you  away  with  that  terrible  tongue  would 
also  strengthen  his  argument  by  a  prolonged  hiss,  and  the 
louder  the  better. 

But  let  us  turn  to  the  hard,  cold,  unpoetical,  unimagin- 
ative language  of  science,  and  see  what  a  snake  can  really 
do  in  the  vocal  expression  of  its  feelings. 

Says  Dr.  Carpenter:  'In  all  air-breathing  vertebrata  the 
production  of  sound  depends  upon  the  passage  of  air  through 


a  certain  portion  of  the  respiratory  tube,  which  is  so  con- 
structed as  to  set  the  air  in  vibration.  In  reptiles  and 
mammals  it  is  at  the  point  where  the  windpipe  opens  into 
the  front  of  the  pharynx,  that  this  vibrating  apparatus  is 
situated.  Few  of  the  animals  of  the  former  class,  however, 
can  produce  any  other  sound  than  a  Jiiss,  occasioned  by  the 
passage  of  air  through  the  narrow  chink  by  which  the 
trachea  communicates  with  the  pharynx  ;  but  this  sound, 
owing  to  the  great  capacity  of  their  lungs,  is  often  very 
much  prolonged'  {Animal  Physiology), — prolonged,  but  not 
powerful,  be  it  observed. 

Says  Professor  Owen:  'The  true  ^' cJiordce  vocales''  are 
absent  in  serpents,  and  the  voice  is  reduced  to  a  hissing 
sound,  produced  by  the  action  of  the  expired  air  upon 
the  margins  of  the  glottis'  {Anatomy  of  the  Vertebrates). 

Speaking  of  the  escape  of  air  from  the  lungs,  Dumeril 
says  :  '  Lorsqu'il  est  passe  plus  vivement  il  laisse  entendre 
une  sorte  de  vibration,  qui  le  plus  souvent,  ne  consiste  que 
dans  le  bruit  d'un  soufflement.'  ^ 

Sometimes,  according  to  the  position  of  a  snake,  or  when 
the  passage  is  well  open  and  uninterrupted,  the  hiss  par- 
takes somewhat  of  a  whistling  sound,  like  the  blowing 
through  a  quill.  I  observed  this  particularly  in  a  '  tree 
boa '  {Epicratis  cenchris),  which  hissed  at  me  angrily  one 
day  because  I  took  the  liberty  of  touching  it  when  the 
keeper  opened  its  cage  to  arrange  its  blanket.  The  'hiss,' 
not  loud,  or  by  any  means  musical,  differed  from  the 
ordinary  blowing  only  as  a  current  of  air  passing  through 
a  round  tube   would   differ  from   the  same  current  passing 

^  E7-petologie  gaierale,  tome  i.  p.  I  So. 

148  SNAKES. 

through  a  narrow  sHt.  A  true  '  hiss,'  such  as  we  produce 
with  closed  teeth  in  prolonging  the  sound  of  s,  a  serpent 
can  never  express.  The  nearest  approach  to  it  in  the 
human  voice  is  when  the  tongue  is  in  the  position  as  if 
we  are  about  to  say  ye  or  he,  and  then  prolong  the  breath  ; 
that  is  to  say,  breathe  out  while  the  tongue  is  so  placed 
before  the  word  is  uttered. 

Naturally  the  larger  the  snake  the  stronger  the  '  hiss  ; ' 
the  more  rapid  the  expiration,  the  more  powerful  will  be 
the  volume  of  air  with  its  attendant  soufflejnent. 

The  sound  and  action,  as  well  as  degree,  are  easily  seen 
in  the  'puff  adder'  {Clotho,ov  Vipera  arietans).  When  angry 
or  alarmed,  it  draws  in  a  full  breath,  and  its  body  swells 
perceptibly ;  then  you  hear  the  escaping  air  like  a  prolonged 
sigh  or  blowing  till  the  lungs  are  empty.  This  process  is 
repeated  as  long  as  the  provocation  lasts. 

These  alternate  inspirations  and  expirations,  with  their 
accompanying  movements,  the  swelling  and  then  diminishing 
of  the  trunk  and  the  regular  soiLfflants,  are  so  precisely  like 
those  of  a  pair  of  bellows,  that  excepting  in  shape,  we  require 
no  more  complete  comparison.  The  degree  or  strength  of 
hiss  is  in  this  reptile  very  perceptible.  When  recently 
imported  and  easily  excited,  its  violent  '  puffing '  corresponds 
with  a  very  large  pair  of  bellows  ;  but  in  time  it  grows  less 
alarmed  at  the  appearance  of  the  human  beings  who  un- 
ceremoniously stare  at  it ;  and  at  length  the  puffing  is  very 
slight,  ceasing  altogether  after  the  snake  becomes  accus- 
tomed to  its  surroundings.  But  if  molested  and  alarmed, 
you  then  see  the  full  play  of  the  lungs,  and  the  whole  body 
alternately  expanding  and  contracting  as  before. 


We  may  almost  compare  this  pulmonary  action  to  the 
panting  or  full  breathings  of  ourselves  under  alarm  or 
agitation.  Only,  in  comparison  as  the  lung  of  snakes  is 
elongated,  and  there  is  so  much  of  it  to  fill  with  air,  so  is 
the  sound  prolonged,  and  the  breathing  a  slower  process. 

There  is  another  viper,  the  small  Cape  adder  {Vipera 
atropos),  a  most  deadly  little  reptile,  in  which  a  similar  sound 
to  that  of  the  '  puff  adder '  may  be  heard.  When  this  crea- 
ture is  disturbed,  it  draws  in  a  long  breath  which  expands 
its  whole  body  in  the  same  manner,  and  then  in  expelling 
the  air,  a  long  sort  of  wheeze  or  blowing  is  audible.  Even 
in  drawing  the  breath  in,  a  slight  sound  is  heard  (as  it  also 
is  in  our  native  viper  and  some  others)  ;  but  instead  of  the 
prolonged  hiss  by  which  most  snakes  display  their  agitation, 
this  little  adder  expresses  itself  in  long  successive  blowings, 
like  its  larger  relative  ariefans,  only  a  little  less  regularly. 
In  the  present  instance,  I  saw  the  lung  inflated  with  an 
agitated  undulating  motion,  as  if  the  fluid  air  were  entering 
in  little  waves.  I  do  not  state  positively  that  this  is  in- 
variably the  case  from  having  witnessed  it  in  one  specimen. 
This  might  be  the  normal  process,  or  this  viper's  lungs  and 
health  may  have  been  impaired.  I  am  thus  precise  because 
it  is  unsafe  to  establish  as  an  invariable  fact  in  natural 
history  what  may  have  been  seen  only  occasionally,  a  habit 
which  has  so  often  led  to  the  promulgation  of  erroneous 

The  prolonged  sound  of  the  hiss  in  snakes  is  due  to  the 
size  of  the  lung,  they  having  a  large  supply  of  air  to  draw 
upon.  Some  serpents  expand  their  bodies  under  excitement 
without  any   perceptible  hiss :    the  cobra    both    hisses    and 

150  SNAKES. 

expands,  so  do  some  others ;  but  all  these  movements  are, 
no  doubt,  connected  with  respiration  in  some  way,  just  as 
in  human  beings,  sighing,  sobbing,  panting,  etc.,  in  which 
the  ribs  take  part,  are  only  modifications  of  the  ordinary 
movements  of  respiration,  and  chiefly  emotional. 

Very  similar  also  to  the  manner  of  the  puff  adder  is  that 
of  Vipera  rhinosceros,  one  of  the  largest  African  poisonous 
serpents,  known  as  the  *  River  Jack,'  being  fond  of  water. 
One  of  these  was  in  the  London  collection  for  several  years, 
and  I  observed  that  whenever  disturbed,  its  body  swelled 
considerably,  while  the  'hissing,'  or  expulsion  of  breath, 
alternated  with  this  expansion. 

Snakes,  like  other  animals,  probably  differ  in  temper  or 
in  nervousness  ;  for  while  some  are  noted  hissers,  others 
hiss  only  on  great  provocation,  and  others,  again,  not  at 
all.  One  remarkable  example  of  a  non -hissing  snake, 
though  from  no  amiability  of  temper,  is  the  little  carpet 
viper  of  India  {Echis  carinafa).  Unless  you  were  positively 
assured  by  learned  authorities  that  this  exceedingly  irritable 
little  viper  never  hisses,  you  would  scarcely  believe  your 
ears,  so  sibilant  is  the  sound  it  causes  by  rustling  its  scales 

Sir  Joseph  Fayrer,  in  the  Thanatophidia,  describes  this  as  a 
very  fierce  and  aggressive  little  viper,  always  ready  to  attack 
and  be  on  the  defensive.  It  throws  itself  into  a  double  coil, 
and  its  agitated  motion  causes  the  rough,  carinated  scales 
to  rub  against  each  other,  and  make  a  sound  like  hissing, 
but  '  it  does  not  hissj 

This  rustling  is  very  much  like  the  sound  of  the  crotalus 
rattle,  and  the  dry  scales  must  be  raised  in  a  sort  of  way,  or 


ruffled,  as  an  alarmed  hen  ruffles  her  feathers.  *  The  outer 
scales  are  prominent,  and  at  a  different  angle  to  the  rest,' 
says  Fayrer.  It  generally  lies  coiled  in  a  compact  form, 
often  like  a  '  w,'  as  may  be  seen  in  the  frontispiece,  with  its 
head  in  the  centre,  but  always  towards  the  point  of  supposed 
danger,  which  in  a  cage  is  facing  the  spectator. 

Curious  and  wonderful  is  the  agitation  into  which  this 
carpet  snake  throws  itself  when  disturbed,  every  inch  of  it, 
excepting  the  head,  in  motion.  The  head  retains  its  fixed 
position,  the  eyes  intently  keeping  guard,  while  the  body 
moves  in  every  conceivable  curve,  like  wheels  within  wheels, 
yet  retaining  the  same  outline,  or  occupying  the  same  place 
and  space,  though  every  muscle  must  be  in  activity. 

One  can  liken  this  behaviour  only  to  what  is  seen  in  the 
blending  of  liquids  of  different  densities.  As  you  look 
down  into  a  glass  containing  one  fluid  while  drop  after  drop 
of  another  is  falling,  you  perceive  fresh  currents  and  curves 
in  every  direction.  Watching  one  of  these,  it  has  changed 
places  with  another,  you  lose  trace  of  it,  each  drop  is  lost  in 
the  commingling  of  the  whole.  So  it  is  with  this  wonderful 
little  echis.  It  is  almost  impossible  to  follow  with  the  eye 
any  one  portion  or  coil  of  its  moving  length  ;  but  each  inch 
changes  places  and  mingles  with  the  rest,  like  blending 

Speaking  of  an  American  snake  {Pitnop/iis  vic/anoleuats), 
in  which  a  similar  excitement  is  observable,  Mr.  Samuel 
Lockwood  ^  likens  it  to  a  '  mystic  wheel.'  '  The  movement 
consists  of  numberless  units  of  individual  activities,'  he  says, 
*  and  all  regulated  by  and  under  the  perfect  control  of  one 

^  American  Nahiralist,  vol.  ix. 

152  SNAKES. 

will  that  is  felt  in  every  curved  line.'  There  is  some  likeness 
to  the  'thousand  personal  activities  of  a  regiment  of  soldiers 
on  their  winding  way.*  He  has  watched  the  creature 
'  melting  into  movements  so  intricate  and  delicate  that  the 
lithe  and  limbless  thing  looks  like  gossamer  incarnate.' 

This  Pine  snake  is  very  smooth,  and  in  the  excited  actions 
thus  graphically  described,  it  makes  no  noise  like  the  little 
Indian  viper ;  but  Mr.  Lockwood's  words  are  so  appropriate 
to  both  snakes  that  the  reader  has  only  to  add  in  imagina- 
tion the  rustling  noise  that  accompanies  the  quivering  echis. 

Among  other  of  the  ophidians  remarkable  for  their  hissing 
is  Psauwphis  sibilans,  the  '  hissing  sand  snake,'  a  very  slender 
little  creature.  Several  mentioned  by  the  earlier  naturalists 
as  '  the  hissing  snake,'  are  evidently  Heterodons.  Catesby, 
Lawson,  and  others  mention  one  as  the  '  blowing  viper  ; ' 
Blmiser  of  the  Dutch,  also  the  '  chequered  '  or  '  spreading- 
adder,'  which  leaves  no  difficulty  in  identifying  Heterodon 
platyrJiiiws.  An  American  writer  indulges  in  a  figure  of 
speech  while  describing  this  little  Coluber  by  saying,  '  It 
emits  a  succession  of  hisses,  "'sibilant  sounds,"  similar  to 
letting  off  steam  from  a  small  steam  engine.'  He  at  the 
same  time  admits  that  it  is  '  harmless  and  inoffensive  in 
spite  of  its  threatening  aspect  when  flattening  its  head.' 
This  is  the  '  spread  head '  alluded  to  in  chap,  xxii.,  an 
unfortunate  demonstration  of  alarm  which  has  gained  for 
it  its  venomous  titles.  Several  of  this  species  have  from 
time  to  time  been  added  to  the  collection  at  the  Zoological 
Gardens,  and  the  chief  drawback  to  their  anticipated  attrac- 
tions is  that  they  so  soon  become  tame  and  peaceful  that 
you    can    scarcely  provoke  them  to  exhibit   their   reputed 


power.     I  have  seen  one  flatten  its  head  so  slightly  as  to  be 
barely  noticeable,  but  I  never  heard  it  '  hiss.' 

'  Its  spots  become  visibly  brighter  through  rage,'  wrote 
Carver  in  1796,  'and  at  the  same  time  it  blows  from  its 
mouth  with  great  force  a  subtle  wind  that  is  reported  to  be 
of  a  nauseous  smell.'  Chateaubriand,  of  course,  had  some- 
thing to  say  of  '  the  hissing  snake,'  frequent  in  the  warmer 
States  of  America.  'When  approached  it  becomes  flat, 
appears  of  different  colours,  and  opens  its  mouth  hissing. 
Great  caution  is  necessary  not  to  enter  the  atmosphere 
which  surrounds  it.  It  decomposes  the  air,  which,  im- 
prudently inhaled,  induces  languor.  The  person  wastes 
away,  the  lungs  are  affected,  and  in  the  course  of  four 
months  he  dies  of  consumption  ! '  Of  another  snake  this 
author  says,  '  He  hisses  like  a  mountain  eagle,  he  bellows 
like  a  bull  ! ' 

It  may  be  objected,  'Why  occupy  space  by  quoting  such 
old  wives'  fables  } '  I  reply,  because  they  have  already  been 
so  abundantly  quoted ;  and  to  such  fables  are  in  great  part 
due  the  erroneous  impressions  which  exist  to  the  present 
day.  Several  members  of  the  Heterodon  family  have  from 
time  to  time  been  in  our  London  collection.  Friends  of 
mine  have  had  Heterodons  in  their  keeping  as  pets  ; 
I  have  often  handled  them,  and  found  them  gentle  and 
inoffensive  in  every  way.  They  are  indeed  so  popularly 
and  peculiarly  interesting  that  they  will  claim  a  page  pre- 
sently, the  present  chapter  being  devoted  exclusively  to 
ophidian  lungs,  not  human  lungs,  supposed  to  be  destroyed 
by  them  ! 

While  admitting  various  degrees  and  qualities  of  hissing, 

154  SA^AKES. 

we  may  give  a  passing  mention  to  Du  Chaillu's  snakes,  all 
of  which  appear  to  be  of  the  whistling,  as  well  as  of  the 
*  springing '  kind.  He  saw  '  an  enormous  black  shining 
snake,  loathsome  and  horrid.'  ...  '  Then  the  fellow  gave 
a  spring,  and  whistled  in  a  most  horrid  manner.'  And  when 
he  was  wounded,  he  again  'gave  a  sharp  whistle.'  On 
another  occasion,  while  a  Goree  man  was  playing  with  a 
large  Naja,  'the  air  around  seemed  to  be  filled  with  the 
whistling  sound  of  the  creature,'  and  so  on. 

Another  African  snake,  the  '  Green  Mamba,'  has  such 
very  bad  manners  that  it  not  only  hisses,  but  spits  and  darts 
at  you.  In  this  instance  my  informant  was  a  young  lady, 
who  had  '  seen  it ! ' 

Somewhat  more  perplexing,  because  more  deserving  of 
notice,  is  what  Livingstone  tells  us  of  a  serpent  called  Nega- 
piit-sane,  or  '  serpent  of  a  kid,'  which  '  utters  a  cry  by  night 
exactly  like  the  bleating  of  that  animal,'  and  that  he  had 
'  heard  one  at  a  spot  where  no  kid  could  possibly  have 
been,'  ^ 

^  II  canta  como  un  gallo!  said  Albert  Seba  of  an  astonishing 
snake  in  Hayti  and  St.  Domingo  once. 

*  Beyond  a  hissing  and  often  a  peculiar  drumming  noise, 
snakes  emit  no  sound,'  says  Krefift,  one  of  our  very  able 
authorities.^  This  experienced  writer  does  not  positively 
affirm  that  the  '  drumming'  is  produced  by  the  voice,  and  it 
is  more  likely  to  proceed  from  the  beating  of  an  agitated 
tail,  an  action  which  may  be  frequently  witnessed  in  excited 

^  Missionary  Travels  in  South  Africa,  by  David  Livingstone. 
^  Snakes  of  Australia,  by  Gerard  Krefift. 


Dr.  Otto  Wuchcrer  saw  this  in  a  South  American  snake, 
Xenodon  colttbrimis.  '  It  has  the  habit  of  striking  the  ground 
rapidly  with  the  tail  wlien  irritated'  {Zoo.  Sac.  Proc.  1861). 

So  do  Spilotes  variabilis,  and  some  others.  So  also  does 
the  Pine  snake,  whose  tail  ends  in  a  horny  tip,  '  like  a  four- 
sided  spike,'  and  which  vibrates  like  a  crotalus  in  rudiment, 
or  strikes  the  ground. 

Several  American  naturalists  have  contributed  interesting 
accounts  of  this  last  species,  known  as  the  '  Bull '  or  *  Pine 
snake,'  or  '  Pilot  snake,'  the  largest  of  the  N.  American  Colu- 
bers. It  was  this  species  {Pituophis  vielanoleiiaLs)  whose 
actions  Mr.  Sam.  Lockwood  described  as  mystic  circles,  and 
its  activity  as  almost  equal  to  that  of  the  '  Racer'  {American 
Naturalist,  vol.  ix.  1875).  But  it  is  called  the  Bull  snake 
because  it  'roars  like  a  bull.'  Bartram  went  so  far  as  to 
say  like  thunder  !  *  Said  to  hiss  like  thunder,'  or  '  resembling 
distant  thunder,'  is  the  cautious  testimony  of  Holbrooke, 
who  adds,  'but  I  never  heard  it,  though  well  acquainted 
with  it' 

Mr.  Lockwood  minutely  described  one  in  his  possession.  In 
reading  his  account  we  can  but  notice  the  similarity  of  action 
between  this  '  Bull  snake '  and  the  African  vipers  in  *  puffing,' 
though  regarding  the  nature  of  the  sound,  the  writer  posi- 
tively affirms  that  '  there  is  nothing  sibilant  in  this  blowing, 
not  the  slightest  hiss  about  it'  Mr.  Lockwood  records  his 
experience  of  several  that  he  had  seen  and  heard,  and  of 
a  fight  between  one  and  a  rat.  '  Now  began  that  fearful 
blowing.  The  snake  slowly  fills  its  lungs  with  air,  and 
then  expels  it  with  a  bellowing  sound  that  is  really 
formidable.'     And  again,  in  the  same  volume,  in  reference 

156  SNAKES. 

to  the  former  account,  he  says:  *As  there  noted,  the 
PituopJiis,  when  alarmed  or  enraged,  slowly  Inflates  itself 
with  air,  thus  nearly  doubling  its  normal  size  along  its 
entire  length,  except  the  tail.  It  then  slowly  expels  the 
air  with  its  own  peculiar  sound.'  He  recalls  his  boyish 
terror  on  once  hearing  this  sound,  which  came  upon  him 
suddenly  in  a  field,  'like  the  restrained  roaring  of  a  bull.' 
This  was  in  New  Jersey ;  but  the  PituopJds  family  extends 
to  the  Western  States,  and  to  the  Rocky  Mountains,  where 
'Bull  snakes'  are  frequently  seen.  In  the  reports  of  the 
United  States  Exploring  Expeditions,  mention  has  been 
made  of  the  prairie  Bull  snake,  and  of  others  in  Nebraska 
and  as  far  west  as  California. 

Some  attain  to  seven  feet  in  length  ;  Holbrooke  mentions 
one  of  nine  feet,  and  '  as  thick  as  your  arm,'  in  common 
parlance.  An  angry  snake  of  this  size  could,  of  course, 
blow  with  considerable  force,  and  the  term  '  bellowing '  might 
not  unreasonably  be  applied  to  the  sound  ;  as  it  is  also 
applied  to  the  croaking  of  the  '  bull  frog '  {Rajia  vmgiens), 
the  sound  of  which  is  really  so  like  the  lowing  of  cattle, 
that,  on  hearing  one  for  the  first  time  in  the  woods 
of  Virginia,  I  looked  round,  quite  expecting  to  see  a 
young  heifer  in  close  proximity.^  Probably,  had  the 
bovine  lungs  sounded  at  the  same  moment,  the  reptilian 
'  bellow '  would  have  proved  but  a  feeble  imitation.  A 
sound  out  of  place,  so  to  speak,  or  unanticipated,  strikes 
upon  the  ear  more  forcibly  than  when  expected.  But  if 
one  reptile,  and  that  a  very  small  one,  can  so  well  imitate 
a  bull  as   it  is   universally  known  the   bull  frog  does,  why 

'  Life  in  the  South,  vol.  i.  p.  260.     By  Catherine  C.  liopley.     Loncl.  1862. 


may  not  another  do  the  same  ?  —  an  argument  which  I 
venture  to  use  notwithstanding  many  herpetologists  accept 
doubtfully  the  possibility  of  a  snake  producing  such  a 
sound.  *  II  est  difficile  a  concevoir  comment  les  serpents 
auraient  la  faculte  de  siffler,  comme  on  pretend  que  peuvent 
le  faire  certaines  esp^ces  de  couleuvres,  et  comme  les  poetes 
se  plaiscnt  a  nous  les  representer.  Jamais  nous  n'avons  pu 
entendre  qu'un  soufflement  tres  sourd,  provenant  de  I'air 
qui  sortait  avec  plus  ou  moins  de  rapidite  de  I'interieur  de 
leur  poumon  que  Ton  voyait  s'affaisser  en  trouvant  une 
issue  par  la  glotte,  a  travers  les  trous  des  narines  ou 
directement  par  la  bouche  dont  la  machoirc  superieure  est 
naturellement  echanchrde.  Alors  la  bruit  ctait  seulement 
comparable  a  celui  qui  resulterait  du  passage  rapide  et 
continue  de  I'air  dans  un  tube  ou  par  un  tuyau  sec  et 
etroit,  comme  serait  celui  d'une  plume.'  ^ 

This  no  doubt  answers  to  the  ordinary  '  hissing '  of  the 
majority  of  snakes  ;  but  that  the  sound  varies  under  certain 
conditions,  and  in  the  same  serpent,  cannot  be  denied. 
A.  R.  Wallace  relates  an  incident  which  may  well  be 
introduced  here,  as  affording  both  a  proof  of  the  length 
of  time  snakes  can  sustain  a  sort  of  half  suffocation,  and 
also  the  expression  or  power  of  '  voice '  in  breathing.  A 
young  boa  was  caught,  and  in  order  to  prevent  its  escape, 
its  captors,  while  preparing  a  box  in  which  to  convey 
it  away,  tied  it  tightly  round  the  neck  to  a  thick  stick, 
which  not  only  fettered  its  movements,  but  appeared  to 
early  stop  its  respiration.  It  lay  writhing  in  much  dis- 
comfort,  sometimes  opening    its    mouth    with    a   suspicious 

'  Dumeril  ct  13ibron's  Erp'-tologie gciitralc,  tome  vi.  p.  186. 



yawn,  as  if  trying  hard  to  breathe.  By  and  by,  when 
reh'eved  from  its  clog  and  safely  consigned  to  a  box  with 
bars  on  the  top,  it  began  to  make  up  for  loss  of  time  by 
breathing  violently,  'the  expirations  sounding  like  high- 
pressure  steam  escaping  from  a  locomotive.  This  continued 
for  some  hours,  of  four  and  a  half  respirations  a  minute,' 
when  the  breathing — in  this  case  we  may  say  panting — 
gradually  subsided,  and  then  the  poor  thing  settled  down 
into  silence.^ 

The  expression  of  feelings  by  the  tail  in  so  many  snakes, 
producing  a  sibilant  sound  in  rustling  dead  leaves,  and  in 
some  which  are  supposed  never  to  hiss,  is  a  subject  well 
worth  the  attention  of  scientific  naturalists.  It  would  be 
interesting  to  ascertain  if  any  peculiarity  of  trachea  or 
of  glottis  exist  in  these. 

^  Travels  hi  the  Amazons,  p.  47.     By  A.  R.  Wallace.     London,  1853. 



THE  periodical  torpor  known  as  the  winter  sleep  of 
reptiles  is  intimately  connected  with  respiration,  and 
a  chapter  must  now  be  devoted  to  this  subject. 

'Reptiles  are  obedient  to  the  external  atmosphere,'  has 
been  aptly  said  of  them.  Thus,  they  obey  the  sun ;  for  if 
exposed  to  his  rays,  they  warm  into  life  and  activity.  They 
obey  the  frost ;  for  when  exposed  to  its  influence,  their 
functions  grow  feeble  or  fail  altogether,  and  they  succumb 
to  within  a  verge  of  lifelessness.  They  obey  all  the  inter- 
mediate variations  of  temperature  during  the  changing  year, 
by  displaying  degrees  of  animation  and  activity  responsive 
to  the  degree  of  warmth  externally  which  they  do  not 
possess  in  themselves. 

Bell  speaks  of  hibernation  as  '  amongst  the  most 
remarkable  and  interesting  phenomena  which  occur  in  the 
history  of  animals.'  It  is  not  a  state  of  suffering,  like  that 
of  a  warm-blooded  creature  that  is  frozen  to  death  ;  but 
with  one  common  impulse,  reptiles  all  retire,  and  remain 
in  an  almost  lifeless  repose,  with  every  function  so  nearly 


i6o  SNAKES. 

suspended,  that  no  external  signs  of  existence  are  visible. 
For  them  it  is  a  sort  of  rest,  and  we  may  cease  to  wonder 
at  their  longevity  since  they  live  only  half  their  lives.  It 
is,  indeed,  a  convenient  mode  of  getting  through  life,  re- 
minding us  of  a  theory  or  proposal  ventilated  not  long 
since,  by  which  convicts  were  to  be  economically  provided 
for  by  submitting  them  to  a  certain  freezing  process,  and 
disposing  them  neatly  on  rows  of  shelves  until  the  expira- 
tion of  their  term  of  punishment  ;  all  to  be  done  then  was 
to  dust  them  thoroughly — perhaps  scrub  them  a  little — and 
restore  them  to  the  world  and  life  again.  And  they  were 
promised  to  be  none  the  worse,  not  even  to  have  lost  their 
memory  or  to  have  acquired  the  rheumatism.  Unfortun- 
ately the  wonderful  process  has  never  been  made  clear  to 
anxious  inquirers,  or  some  others  of  us,  who  are  not  con- 
victs, might  gladly  resort  to  this  method  of  rest  occasionally, 
and  of  freezing  out  the  worries  of  existence. 

On  the  principle  of  political  economy,  this  would  be  all 
very  well,  and  in  the  great  routine  of  nature  there  is  bene- 
ficence in  the  hibernation  of  creatures,  whether  reptiles  or 
other  animals,  that  are  sent  to  sleep  at  the  very  time  when 
food  fails  them.  The  smaller  members  of  the  class  have 
no  longer  insects  and  molluscs ;  the  larger  ones  feed  chiefly 
on  rodents  and  birds  which  have  also  retired  or  migrated, 
or  on  their  lesser  kinsfolk,  that  no  longer  abound  where 
most  wanted  by  them.  Therefore,  this  going  to  sleep  every 
winter,  and  doing  without  food  when  there  is  no  food  to 
be  had,  is  most  convenient  for  a  considerable  section  of 
animated  nature. 

There   is   something   strangely   analogous    in    the   almost 


total  suspension  of  vital  forces  in  reptiles  to  that  which 
vegetation  undergoes.  Circulation  stops,  the  juices  become 
stagnant,  whether  in  a  tree  or  in  a  snake,  and  it  is  sometimes 
difficult  to  decide  in  either  case  whether  life  is  extinct  or 
not.  But  with  returning  warmth  comes  renewed  vitality  ; 
the  fluids,  whether  of  the  animal  or  the  vegetable  organism, 
are  thawed  by  the  revivifying  solar  rays,  which  set  them 
circulating  and  start  the  pulsation;  and  the  animal  machinery, 
like  a  watch  wound  up,  is  set  in  working  order  again. 

It  is  owing  to  this  lack  of  warmth  in  themselves  that 
snakes  can  live  only  in  hot  countries,  or  in  cooler  latitudes, 
during  the  warmer  weather,  and  not  at  all  in  the  frigid 
zones.  In  speaking  of  them,  Dumeril  says  Linnaeus  was 
right  in  calling  them  cold  animals  in  hot  countries.  *  Aussi 
la  plupart  des  Ophidiens  habitent-ils  les  climats  chauds, 
et  c'est  en  parlant  d'eux  que  Linne  a  pu  dire  avec  raison : 
"  Frigida  a^stuantium  animalia."  '  ^ 

Dumeril  describes  their  respiration  as  arbitrary,  suspended, 
retarded,  or  accelerated  at  will.  '  La  respiration  ctant  volon- 
tairement  acceleree  ou  retardee,  les  actions  chimiques  et 
vitales  qui  en  resultent  doivent  etre  naturellement  excitees 
ou  ralenties  par  cette  cause.'  ^  '  The  electric  fluid,'  says 
Latreillc,  '  is  one  of  the  great  agents  in  animating  living 
beings ;  and  upon  reptiles  it  operates  in  conjunction  with 
warmth  in  rousing  them  from  their  inactivity.' 

The  periodical  torpor  and  insensibility  which  reptiles 
undergo  cannot,  however,  be  always  associated  with  extremes 
of  cold,   nor  in   all    cases   called    strictly  a  ^luiutcr'  sleep; 

^  Erpetologie genci-aIe,\.OTtit\\.  p.   1 84. 
^  Ibid,  tome  i.  p.  I  So. 


t62  snakes. 

because  it  is  during  the  hottest  seasons  in  the  tropics  that 
they  resign  themselves  similarly  to  an  almost  death-like 
repose  and  temporary  tomb,  burying  themselves  in  the 
mud,  which  is  hard-baked  around  and  over  them,  almost 
hermetically  sealed  until  the  rainy  season  loosens  the  soil, 
and  frees  them  from  this  literal  sarcophagus.  In  this  case 
the  so-called  *  hibernation '  is  the  result  of  drought.  It  is 
moisture  now  which  revivifies  them,  rain  which  restores 
their  vital  functions,  and  like  the  chrysalis  bursting  its 
shell  and  emerging  a  new  and  brilliant  creature,  the  reptile 
lives  anew,  doffs  his  muddy  coat,  and  re-appears  in  all  his 
resplendent  colouring. 

The  prairie  rattlesnake  {Crotahis  confliientus)  is  known  to 
undergo  this  species  of  torpor,  which  is,  in  fact,  estivation. 
It  is  described  as  having  been  found  in  this 'stupid  condi- 
tion' in  the  dry  caiions  of  the  Rocky  Mountains  during 
the  droughts  of  July  and  August.  American  naturalists 
who  accompany  the  Exploring  Expeditions  affirm  that  this 
partial  torpor  is  common  to  many  species  of  snakes,  and 
analogous  to  hibernation.  They  are  'sluggish,  stupid, 
blind,  striking  wildly,'  says  one  of  the  official  Reports. 

Snakes  remain  torpid  on  an  average  half  the  year.  It 
is  a  winter  sleep  in  colder  and  temperate  climates,  and  a 
summer  sleep  in  hot  ones.  The  green  garter-snake  of  the 
United  States  hibernates  eight  months  out  of  the  twelve. 
So  do  some  of  the  Australian  snakes,  others  being  under- 
ground five  months  in  the  year,  Krefft  tells  us.  The  dura- 
tion of  insensibility  varies,  of  course,  with  the  climate  and 

Snakes  in  mcnaq;eries  have  been  known  to   manifest  in- 


activity  and  disinclination  for  food  as  early  as  September 
if  the  season  be  unusually  cold,  at  other  times  in  October  ; 
but,  on  the  contrary,  during  a  milder  season  they  keep 
active  until  November,  while  some  do  not  hibernate 
at  all.  Their  habits  there  can,  however,  scarcely 
be  cited  as  normal,  since  the  artificial  heat  regularly 
maintained  in  the  Ophidarium  never  permits  the  rigours 
of  an  out-door  winter  to  affect  them.  Nevertheless  they 
manifest  the  disposition  for  repose ;  and  if  it  could  be 
so  arranged  that  the  tropical  snakes  could  be  submitted 
to  tropical  heat  and  drought,  and  those  of  cooler  countries 
to  frosty  air,  as  in  a  state  of  nature,  we  might  witness 
both  estivation  and  hibernation  under  the  same  roof. 

A  partial  hibernation  is  observable  in  reptiles  in  captivity 
when,  though  not  absolutely  inactive,  they  decline  food.  For 
twenty-two  weeks  a  python  at  the  Zoological  Gardens  fasted 
during  one  winter  ;  at  another  time,  twenty  weeks.  The  large 
python  {reticidatus)  fasted  for  one  year-  and  eleven  months, 
covering  two  winters,  but  fed  well  and  retained  its  health 
after  this.  Meanwhile,  during  this  prolonged  fast,  should  a 
gleam  of  sunshine  penetrate  the  foggy  atmosphere  of  our 
London  winters,  and  shine  through  the  glass  roof  upon  a 
constrictor's  coverlet,  he  may  slowly  emerge  therefrom,  dis- 
playing a  few  feet  of  his  lazy  length  for  an  hour  or  so,  thus 
verifying  the  words,  '  obedient  to  the  external  atmosphere.' 
No  creatures  are  so  susceptible  of  the  changes  of  temperature  ; 
and  the  same  degree  which  caused  them  to  seek  a  retreat 
will,  on  the  return  of  spring,  reanimate  them.  And  warmth — 
in  them  almost  another  word  for  vitality — equally  affects  their 
appetite.     In  the  very  height  of  summer,  should  their  feeding- 

1 64  SNAKES, 

day  prove  a  chilly  one,  a  much  lighter  drain  on  the  larder 
is  observable,  while  a  warm,  bright  day  will  show  a  heavy 
poulterer's  bill  ///  I'c  OpJiidariinn.  Dr.  A.  Stradling,  a 
practical  ophiologist,  found  that  the  common  English  snakes 
*  thrive  exceedingly  by  reason  of  their  increased  appetites,' 
when  taken  to  the  tropics.  'It  is  impossible  to  say  what 
degree  of  heat  a  reptile  will  not  stand  and  enjoy,'  says  this 
writer  {Field,  July  28,  1881).  'On  the  hottest  days  in  the 
hottest  places  on  earth,  one  surprises  snakes  and  lizards 
basking  in  the  blazing  sun-glare,  on  sands  and  rocks  which 
it  would  almost  blister  the  hand  to  touch.'  Florida  is  the 
most  southern  extreme  of  my  own  experience  ;  but  during  a 
summer  there  one  could  not  rest  the  hand  on  the  almost 
burning  stones  and  walls  on  which  the  reptiles  delightedly 
reposed  ;  and  even  in  England,  during  a  hot  August,  my 
little  Bournemouth  lizards  were  positively  hot  to  the  touch 
when  basking  in  the  full  power  of  a  bright  noon  sun.  Dumeril 
corroborates  these  facts  when  he  says  some  reptiles  can  endure 
a  temperature  higher  than  blood-heat.  Sometimes  in  early 
spring  he  found  a  snake  seeming  to  be  asleep  under  a  very 
hot  wall  w^hich  had  been  exposed  to  the  mid-day  sun,  but 
which  had  been  several  hours  in  shadow.  So  tenaciously 
had  the  reptile  retained  the  heat  it  had  then  absorbed,  that 
though  the  air  now  felt  cold,  the  snake  imparted  tine  chaleiir 
ires  notable  when  he  touched  it.  Many  times,  in  taking  up 
a  lizard  from  a  sunny  rock  in  summer,  it  really  has  briile  les 
doigts}  The  old  fable  about  salamanders  living  m  fire 
no  doubt  originates  in  the  fact  of  reptiles  loving  heat 
as   they  do.     ]\Iany   pages    might    be  filled  with    instances 

^  Dumeril  et  Dibron,  tome  vi.  p.  1S4. 

HIBERNA  TIOiV.  1 6  5 

of  this,  and  of  their  approaching  fire  to  a  suicidal 

Equally  strange  is  the  degree  of  cold  to  which  they  can 
sometimes  submit,  and  yet  recover.  But  we  must  conclude 
that  this  is  Avhen  they  are  overcome  gradually,  not  suddenly^ 
by  it,  and  not  exposed  to  the  outer  air  so  that  the  tissues 
would  be  injured.  Dr.  Carpenter  mentions  reptiles  having 
been  kept  three  years  in  an  ice-house,  and  recovering  on 
being  gradually  restored  to  warmth.  Too  recklessly  acting 
upon  this,  I  deposited  my  pet  lizards  in  a  small,  shallow 
box  containing  moss,  sand,  and  soft  rubbish,  and  left  them 
outside  a  window  to  hibernate.  They  buried  themselves  as 
deeply  as  they  could  go, — only  a  few  inches,  alas ! — but  a 
sudden  and  severe  frost  set  in,  and  the  poor  little  victims 
were  frozen  stiff  at  the  bottom  of  their  prison-house.  It  was 
in  a  bleak  north-eastern  aspect,  and  the  sharp  frost  easily 
striking  through  the  wood,  that  slight  box  must  have  proved 
a  very  different  sort  of  nest  to  what  they  would  have  chosen 
on  their  native  heath, — far  down,  and  well  protected  from 
the  icy  winds.  In  a  strong,  deep  box,  or  an  earthenware  jar, 
Avith  sufficient  earth  and  rubbish  in  it,  they  might  have 

In  the  Museum  of  Paris  in  1875-76,  sixteen  rattlesnakes 


are  said  to  have  died  of  cold.  The  heating  apparatus  at 
the  Jardin  des  Plantes  is  less  effective  than  our  own  in 
London,  where  very  few  of  the  snakes  have  been  known 
to  suffer  from  lowered  temperature. 

Snakes  are  abundantly  supplied  with  oily  fat ;  thick  layers 
of  it  line  their  intestines  in  autumn,  and  this  is  gradually 
absorbed  during  their  torpor.      They  therefore  lose  weight, 

1 66  SNAKES. 

and  awake  In  an  enfeebled  condition,  only  gradually  recover- 
ing their  normal  strength  after  some  days. 

The  power  of  endurance  in  serpents,  and  their  independ- 
ence of  a  large  supply  of  oxygen,  render  them  important 
agents  in  the  economy  of  nature.  In  the  swamps  and 
morasses  where  malaria  abounds,  reptiles  are  most  numerous. 
Many  such  places  under  canopies  of  pestilential  vapours, 
swarm  with  insects,  molluscs,  worms,  caterpillars,  and 
the  smaller  reptiles  on  which  snakes  mostly  feed.  They 
are,  therefore,  the  scavengers  of  such  localities  ;  they  fulfil  a 
great  law  by  keeping  up  the  balance  of  nature  even  to  the 
extent  of  rendering  certain  countries  habitable. 

Those  ophidian  families  which  prefer  higher  lands,  sandy 
or  rocky  districts,  select  the  sunny  hill-sides  when  the  frost 
sets  in,  and  hide  themselves  under  stones  or  in  caves  where, 
as  described  in  the  chapter  on  rattlesnakes,  they  congregate 
in  vast  numbers.  Piles  and  convolutions  of  serpents  in  this 
condition  have  often  been  discovered,  and  as  often  described. 
It  is  as  if  the  small  degree  of  animal  warmth  each  one  pos- 
sessed were  harvested  for  their  mutual  good,  and  to  the 
benefit  of  the  whole  community.  Nor  are  these  assemblages 
at  all  exclusive  as  to  kind,  but  are  dens  of  discordant 
materials,  where,  as  an  American  wrote,  'the  liberal  terms  of 
admission  seemed  only  to  require  the  evidence  of  snakeship.' 
Lizards,  too,  though  of  widely  -  branching  kinship,  are 
guided  by  the  same  instinct,  and  sometimes  share  the 

A  few  years  ago,  near  Hayward's  Heath  in  Sussex,  some 
men  who  were  levelling  the  ground  for  building,  dug  out  of 
a  bank  at  a  depth  of  from  four  to  five  feet,  upwards  of  one 

HIBERNA  TION.  1 6  7 

hundred  slow  worms  and  as  many  small  lizards,  all  in  a 
torpid  state.     It  v/as  during  February. 

At  the  end  of  September  more  recently,  a  farmer  in 
Wales,  who  with  his  labourers  was  removing  a  heap  of 
manure,  came  upon  an  extraordinary  bed  of  snakes  and 
slow  worms,  and  no  less  than  352  were  killed,  together 
with  an  enormous  quantity  of  eggs ;  '  thousands  in  clusters 
were  destroyed.'  'Three  of  the  snakes  were  of  immense 
size,  and  one  hundred  of  them  nine  to  twelve  inches  long.' 
These  latter  were  probably  slow  worms,  and  the  three 
'immense'  ones  ring  snakes.  One  feels  curious  to  know 
whether  judgment  for  this  act  of  wanton  cruelty  visited 
that  farmer  in  a  destruction  of  his  crops  next  year  by  the 
mice  and  insects  from  which  these  harmless  reptiles  would 
have  saved  them ! 

The  general  reptilian  instincts  are  the  same  in  all  climates 
where  the  temperature  is  similar.  In  Australia,  as  Krefft 
tells  us,  this  is  a  grand  time  among  schoolboys  for  'snake- 
hunting.'  They  lay  traps  of  large  flat  stones  on  open  sunny 
ridges  where  the  reptiles  are  likely  to  resort.  Six  to  ten 
specimens  of  different  species  are  often  taken  under  one 
such  stone.  Even  the  venomous  kinds  may  be  easily  cap- 
tured and  transferred  to  a  bag  In  their  half-dormant  con- 
dition. Sometimes  in  lifting  a  stone,  a  dozen  or  more 
handsome  and  beautiful  lizards  are  found  among  their 
ophidian  cousins.  The  Wallaby  hunters  generally  provide 
themselves  with  a  collecting-bag,  and  thousands  of  snakes 
have  thus  been  transferred  to  museums.  So  expert  do 
the  hunters  become,  that  in  eight  years,  the  same  author 
affirms,   not   one   accident  has  occurred  from   a   venomous 

i68  SiYAKES. 

species.  From  May  to  September  in  Australia,  timid 
persons  need  be  in  no  fear  of  snakes  in  the  'scrub.'  The 
larger  and  more  dangerous  species  retire  deep  into  the 
ground,  and  only  the  young  ones  under  stones.  Warm 
days  entice  them  out  for  an  hour  or  two,  and  they  retire 
again  at  night,  just  as  is  the  case  with  those  of  the  United 

The  ancients  Avere  aware  of  this  hibernation  of  reptiles  ; 
and  Pliny,  who,  having  sometimes  a  foundation  of  fact  to 
build  upon,  is  all  the  more  dangerous  from  his  fabulous 
superstructure,  writes,  *  The  viper  is  the  only  serpent  that 
conceals  itself  in  the  earth.  It  can  live  there  without  taking 
food  for  a  whole  year.  They  are  not  venoinoiLS  when  they  are 
asleep!  he  sagely  adds.  Vipers  can  live  without  food  for  even 
more  than  a  year,  and  so  can  other  snakes ;  but  this  often  is 
irrespective  of  hibernation,  and  of  this  more  will  be  said 

A  still  stronger  evidence  of  vitality  or  suspended  animation 
is  witnessed  in  the  extraordinary  custom  of  packing  the 
poor  wretched  snakes  in  air-tight  bottles,  which  some  bar- 
barous (the  word  here  in  both  senses  may  be  used)  people 
adopt.  A  Cerastes  arrived  in  England  in  a  bottle,  which 
had  been  hermetically  closed  for  six  wrecks,  and  it  revived. 
It  was  so  crowded  into  the  bottle  as  to  look  quite  dead, 
but  revived  directly  it  was  released,  and  struck  a  fowl,  which 
died  instantly!  Sometimes  a  bottle  or  jar  is  literally  crowded 
with  ophidian  captives,  that  are  certainly  out  of  harm's  way 
so  far  as  others  are  concerned,  and  travel  in  a  compact  com- 
pass ;  but  it  stands  to  reason  that  even  when  they  survive 
this  close  imprisonment,  they  are  not  in  a  very  lively  con- 


ditlon,  and  the  large  mortality  which  is  found  In  most 
collections  may  be  imputed  to  a  great  extent  to  the  un- 
healthy condition  in  which  they  arrive  after  injudicious 
packing.  Nailed  up  in  air-tight  boxes,  is  a  very  ordinary 
mode  of  transportation,  a  species  of  cruelty  which  would 
raise  a  cry  of  horror  were  the  captive  any  other  than  a 
despised  *  reptile ! '  In  connection  with  breathing  or  not 
breathing,  and  powers  of  endurance,  silcJl  packing  receives 
only  a  passing  mention  here,  but  is  one  that  should  be 
thoroughly  exposed  in  the  Animal  IVojId  a.nd  similar  papers. 
One  more  singular  example  of  periodical  repose,  but 
which  can  scarcely  be  called  either  hibernation  or  estiva- 
tion, is  seen  in  the  sea  snakes,  the  HydropJiidce  of  the  Eastern 
Ocean.  Of  these  Dr.  Cantor  affirms  that  they  are  seen  so 
soundly  asleep  on  the  surface  of  the  water,  that  a  ship 
passing  among  them  does  not  awaken  them.  This  is  the 
more  remarkable  because  the  eyes  of  sea  snakes  are  organ- 
ized to  endure  the  glare  of  light  only  when  modified  or 
subdued  through  water,  and  are  easily  affected  when  out 
of  it,  the  reptiles  becoming  dazzled,  and  even  blinded,  by 
bright  sunshine.  So  that  we  must  suppose  some  peculiar 
insensibility  of  nerve  in  these,  or  a  cessation  of  active 
functions  during  their  repose  analogous  to  the  hibernation 
of  land  snakes.  Another  Interesting  Inquiry  suggests  itself  : 
viz.  How  does  one  ascertain  that  an  open-eyed  snake  is 
*  asleep '  f  We  called  that  Racer  (p.  64)  '  asleep,'  as  it 
appeared  to  be  quite  unconscious  of  interruption,  and  did 
not  move  at  our  approach. 



SETTING  aside  for  the  present  the  true  death-dealing 
powers  of  the  ophidians,  viz.  the  fangs  of  the  poison- 
ous famih'es  and  the  constricting  powers  of  the  larger 
non-venomous  kinds,  another  supposed  medium  of  mischief, 
second  only  to  the  tongue,  is  the  tail ! 

The  old-time  fables  of  the  '  stin2:incr  tails '  have  alwavs 
obtained  credence,  and  do  so  still  among  the  ignorant  classes 
in  many  countries.  Nor  is  the  belief  without  some  apparent 
reason,  for  the  tail  of  a  large  number  of  snakes,  both  of  the 
poisonous  and  the  non-poisonous  families,  terminates  in  a 
horny  spine  more  or  less  hard  and  pointed.  In  a  few,  this 
sharp  spine  is  curved  with  an  undeniably  weapon-like  aspect. 
Some  of  these  thorn-like  tips  might  even  be  capable  of 
inflicting  a  slight  wound  were  the  owners  conscious  of  this, 
and  had  they  a  disposition  to  avail  themselves  of  it.  But,  as 
a  weapon,  snakes  do  not  instinctively  use  their  pointed  tails  ; 
they  are  chiefly  assistants  in  locomotion.  As  a  fulcrum,  and 
sometimes  a  propeller,  certain  species  make  constant  and 
important  use  of  them.     You   may  observe  that  when  in  a 


THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  171 

position  of  clanger,  many  snakes  trust  greatly  to  the  pressure 
of  their  tails,  whether  pointed  or  not,  as  a  balance  or  even  a 
support.  This  pressure,  which  is  forcible,  but  not  aggres- 
sive, no  doubt  gave  rise  in  the  first  instance  to  the  behef 
that  the  snake  was  intentionally  endeavouring  to  inflict  a 
wound — a  myth  which,  like  all  the  other  ophidian  myths,  is 
so  hard  to  eradicate. 

Sir  Thomas  Browne,  in  his  Pseudoxia,  more  than  two 
hundred  years  ago,  mentioned  this  as  one  of  the  'Vulgar 
Errours.'  As  very  little  was  known  of  foreign  snakes  at 
that  time,  1672,  excepting  through  classic  writers,  one  must 
suppose  that  our  poor  little  native  Anguis  fragilis  \\7k?>  in- 
cluded among  the  weapon-tailed  snakes,  '  that  worm  with 
venomed  tongue '  which  does  really  in  a  remarkable  manner 
make  important  though  innocent  use  of  its  very  blunt  tail  as 
a  means  of  progression.  He  says,  *  That  Snakes  and  Vipers 
do  sting,  or  transmit  their  Mischief  by  the  Tail,  is  a  common 
Expression,  not  easy  to  be  Justified.  .  .  .  The  Poison  lying 
about  their  Teeth  and  communicated  by  Bite  in  such  as  are 
destructive.  And  Bitings  mentioned  in  Scripture  are  dift"er- 
entially  set  down  from  such  as  Mischief  by  Stings.'  ^  '  God 
commanded  Moses  to  take  up  the  Serpent  by  the  Tail,'  Sir 
Thomas  Browne  reminds  us,  as  if  in  proof  that  the  caudal 
extremity  was  perfectly  harmless.  '  Nor  are  all  Snakes  of 
such  empoisoning  Qualities  as  common  Opinion  presumeth,' 
the  author  endeavours  to  impress  upon  his  readers,  because 
there  are  several  histories  of  domestic  snakes  from  '  Ophio- 
phagous  Nations  and  such  as  feed  on  Serpents.'  Then  follows 
an  opinion  equally  wise  and  witty.     '  Surely  the  destructive 

^  Fsatdoxia  ;  or.  Vulgar  Errotns,  Rook  iii.  p.  207.     By  Sir  Thomas  Browne. 



Delusion  of  Satan  in  this  Shape  hath  much  enlarged  the 
Opinion  of  their  Mischief.  Which  was  not  so  high  with  the 
Heathens,  in  whom  the  Devil  had  wrought  a  better  Opinion  of 
this  Animal,  it  being  sacred  unto  the  Egyptians,  Greeks,  and 
Romans,  and  the  comxmon  symbol  of  Sanity.' 

But,  alas !  many  spiny-tailed  snakes  have  sprung  to  light 
in  various  countries,  long  since  Sir  Thomas  Browne  so  wisely 
instructed  his 
readers ;  and  even 
now,  the  *  death 
adder  of  Australia 
{Acanthophis  ant- 
arcticd)  is  much 
dreaded  on  account 
of  its  thorn-like 
tail;  Krefft's  ^ 

description  of  the  repulsive  aspect  of  this  snake  is  suffi- 
ciently terrifying,  apart  altogether  from  its  looks  alone,  its 
ragged-looking  head,  with  its  loose  scales,  thick  body,  and 
its  short,  rough,  unmistakeable  tail,  terminating  in  a  sus- 
picious-looking point,  as  if  one  sharp  spine  had  taken  root 
there,  and  was  capable  of  inflicting  a  wound.  The  tail  spine 
hardens  only  in  age,  he  tells  us,  and  '  is  really  not  a 
weapon  either  of  attack  or  defence.' 

Another  tail  of  evil  repute  belongs  to  the  Water  Viper 
of  the  United  States,  vernacularly  known  as  the  'Thorn-tail' 
snake,  TrigoiiocepJiahis piscivorus  of  American  herpetologists. 

John  Lawson,  in  his  History  of  Carolina^  published  in  1707, 
was  one  of  the  first  to  describe  it.     After  him  we  hear  of  it 

^  Snakes  of  Australia,  by  Gerard  Krefft.. 

Death  Adder  (from  Krefft's  Snikes  of  Aiistralui). 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  173 

from  Catesby.  The  quaint  descriptions  of  each  of  these 
early  travellers  are  amusing ;  and  from  such  accounts  the 
progress  of  science  Is  traced. 

'Of  the  Horn  Snake,'  says  Lawson,  *I  never  saw  but  two 
that  I  remember.  They  are  like  the  Rattlesnake  In  Colour, 
but  rather  lighter.  They  hiss  exactly  like  a  Goose  when  any- 
thing approaches  them.  They  strike  at  their  Enemy  with 
their  Tail,  and  kill  whatsoever  they  wound  with  It,  which  Is 
armed  at  the  End  with  a  Horny  Substance  like  a  Cock's  Spur. 
This  is  their  Weapon.  I  have  heard  It  credibly  reported  by 
those  who  said  they  were  Eye-WItnesses,  that  a  small  Locust 
Tree,  about  the  Thickness  of  a  Man's  Arm,  being  struck  by 
one  of  these  Snakes  at  Ten  o'clock  in  the  Morning,  then  ver- 
dant and  flourishing,  at  Four  in  the  Afternoon  was  dead,  and 
the  Leaves  dead  and  withered.'  (Probably  the  tree  had 
been  struck  by  lightning  during  the  interval,  a  very  frequent 
occurrence  In  those  parts.)  '  Doubtless,  be  It  how  It  will, 
they  are  very  venomous.  I  think  the  Indians  do  not  pre- 
tend to  cure  their  wound.' 

When  Lawson  travelled,  setting  out  in  December  1700, 
as  an  appointed  *  Surveyor-General '  of  the  newly  settled 
colony  of  North  Carolina,  very  little  was  known  of  the  natural 
history  and  productions  of  those  parts,  and  he  relied  on  the 
native  tribes  for  much  of  his  Information. 

His  work  was  dedicated  '  To  His  Excellency,  William 
Lord  Craven,  Palatine  ;  The  Most  Noble  Henry,  Duke  of 
Beaufort ;  The  Right  Hon.  John  Lord  Carteret ;  and  the  rest 
of  the  True  and  Absolute  Lords,  Proprietors  of  the  Province 
of  Carolina  in  America.' 

'  As  a  Debt  of  Gratitude  the  Sheets  were  laid  at  their  Lord- 

174  SNAKES. 

ships'  Feet,  having  nothing  to  recommend  them  but  Truth, 
a  Gift  which  every  Author  may  be  Master  of  If  he  will.' 

With  ever  so  praiseworthy  an  intention  of  telling  'the 
Truth,'  Lawson  did  not  possess  the  scientific  knowledge  to 
enable  him  to  guard  against  error.  Neither  did  Colonel 
Beverley,  who  wrote  a  History  of  Virginia,  published  in 
London  in  1722,  and  who  perpetuated  the  'stinging  tail.' 
'  There  Is  likewise  a  Horn  Snake,  so  called  from  a  Sharp  Horn 
it  carries  in  Its  Tail,  with  which  it  assaults  anything  that 
offends  It,  with  that  Force  that,  as  It  Is  said,  it  will  strike  its 
Tail  into  the  Butt  End  of  a  Musket,  from  whence  it  Is  not 
able  to  disenq;a2re  itself.' 

A  few  years  later,  Catesby  went  over  the  same  ground 
as  a  professed  naturalist,  and  afforded  a  more  rational 
account  of  this  '  horn  snake,'  to  which  he  assigned  the  name 
of  Vipera  aquatica,  'Water  viper,'  or  'Water  rattlesnake.' 
'  Not  that  it  hath  a  Rattle.  The  Tail  of  this  Viper  is  small 
towards  the  End,  and  terminates  in  a  blunt,  horny  Point, 
about  half  an  Inch  long.  This  harmless  little  Thing  has 
given  a  dreadful  Character  to  its  Owner,  imposing  a  Belief  on 
the  Credulous  that  he  is  the  terrible  Horn  Snake  armed  with 
Death  at  both  Ends,  thus  attributing  to  him  another  Instru- 
ment of  Death  besides  that  he  had  before,  though  in  reality 
of  equal  Truth  with  that  of  the  Two-headed  Amphlsbasna. 
Yet  we  are  told  that  this  fatal  Horn,  by  a  Jerk  of  the 
Tail,  not  only  mortally  wounds  Men  and  other  Animals 
but  if  by  Chance  struck  into  a  young  Tree,  whose  Bark  is 
more  easily  penetrated  than  an  old  one,  the  Tree  Instantly 
withers,  and  turns  black  and  dies  '  ^ 

^  The  Natural  History  of  Carolina,  by  Mark  Catesby.     London,  1731. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  175 

Unfortunately,  in  mentioning  the  '  Horn  snake,'  many 
subsequent  writers,  seizing  on  the  marvellous  rather  than 
the  rational,  have  omitted  the  qualifying  ^it  is  said  to  inflict 
a  wound,'  and  Catesby's  exposition  of  the  absurdity  ;  thus 
handing  down  as  a  fact  that  the  tail  was  truly  a  terrible 
weapon  ! 

It  was  probably  this  water  viper  which  Chateaubriand 
had  in  his  mind  when,  towards  the  end  of  that  century,  he 
described  the  *  Prickly  snake,  short  and  thick.  It  has  a 
sting  in  its  tail,  the  wound  of  which  is  mortal ! '  Chateau- 
briand was  much  quoted  for  a  long  period. 

Dr.  J.  E.  Holbrooke,  in  his  North  American  Herpetology^ 
published  at  New  York  in  1842,  corroborates  all  Catesby 
further  said  regarding  the  fish-loving  tastes  of  the  '  Thorn- 
tail  '  snake,  and  which  obtained  for  it  the  specific  name 
piscivoriis.  It  frequents  damp  and  swampy  places,  and  is 
never  seen  far  from  water.  In  the  summer  (during  Catesby's 
time),  great  numbers  might  be  seen  lying  on  the  low  boughs 
of  trees  overhanging  a  river,  whence  they  would  drop  into 
the  water  and  pursue  the  fish  with  great  swiftness.  Few 
fish  exceed  its  velocity  in  swimming.  Cenchris  or  Tri- 
gonocephahis  piscivoncs  is  the  name  by  which  American 
herpetologists  now  recognise  it.  It  is  becoming  rare  where 
formerly  it  abounded,  but  is  still  found  in  the  wilder 
districts  of  the  less  settled  States,  and  in  the  hot  weather 
may  be  seen  lying  motionless  on  the  low  branches,  and 
often  so  like  a  pQrtion  of  the  bough  as  not  to  be 
observed  till  the  sudden  plunge  tells  that  a  deadly  snake 
was  close  at  hand.  It  is  a  cannibal  besides,  and  other  snakes 
are  afraid  of  it  and  give   it   a  wide  berth.     The  horny  spine 

176  SNAKES. 

(which  is  a  mere  hardening  and  consohdatiori  of  the  terminal 
scales)  and  another  feature,  namely  the  '  pit '  in  its  cheeks, 
described  in  chap,  xxi.,  prove  it  to  be  allied  to  the  rattle- 
snake. It  is  therefore  included  among  the  Crotalidce,  of 
which  more  hereafter.^ 

A  number  of  the  '  Pit  vipers '  and  Trigonoccphall  are 
furnished  with  hard-pointed  tails,  and  when  they  vibrate 
them  rapidly,  as  many  snakes  do  under  excitement,  the 
rustling  against  the  dead  leaves  produces  a  sound  very  similar 
to  the  sibilation  of  the  true  Crotaliis  tail. 

TrigonoccpJialus  contortrix,  the  '  Copper-head,'  Is  another 
of  these.  Also  the  renowned  '  Bushmaster '  of  Guiana  and 
Brazil  {LacJiesis  inutus,  or  CrotaliLs  mutus),  of  which  latter 
Darwin  wrote,  confirming  Cuvier's  reasons  for  making  it  a  sub- 
genus of  the  rattlesnake  : — '  I  observed  a  fact  which  appears 
to  me  very  curious,  as  showing  how  every  character,  even 
though  it  may  be  independent  of 
structure,  has  a  tendency  to  vary 
by  slow  degrees.  The  extremity  of 
the  tail  of  this  snake  is  terminated 
by  a  horny  point,  which  is  slightly 

Tail  of  Z.aMt'^/j  ;«M2'7^s  (exact  size). 

enlarged,  and  as  the  anmial  glides 

along,  it  constantly  vibrates  the  last  inch  or  so  ;  and  this  part, 

striking  against  the   dry  grass  and  brushwood,  produces   a 

^  The  vipers  in  the  London  Gardens  labelled  Ctuchris piscivonis  have  not  the 
thorny  tail,  nor  are  they  fish  eaters.  Nor  can  the  spectator  form  any  idea  of 
their  swimming  capacities,  their  dark,  narrow  tank  barely  enabling  them  to 
extend  themselves  full  length.  Herpetologists  differ  in  assigning  the  above  name, 
and  in  deciding  which  is  really  the  '  Thoni-tail '  or  '  Horn  snake '  of  Lawson  and. 
Catesby.  Those  at  the  Zoological  Gardens,  notwithstanding  their  specific  name, 
are  never  regaled  on  fish. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SXAKE.  177 

rattling  noise  which  can  be  distinctly  heard  at  the  distance 
of  six  feet.  As  often  as  the  animal  was  irritated  or  surprised, 
its  tail  was  shaken,  and  its  vibrations  were  extremely  rapid. 
This  TrigonocepJialus  has,  therefore,  in  some  respects  the 
structure  of  a  viper  with  the  habits  of  a  rattlesnake.' 

Dr.  Gijnther  and  Sir  Joseph  Fayrer  both  mention  a 
peculiarity  of  this  kind  in  some  of  the  Eastern  representatives 
of  the  (7r^/^///j",  viz.  the  Trijncj-esuj'i^  Indian  tree  snakes.  The 
former  writes  :  '  Some  have  prehensile  tails,  which,  when  not 
so  occupied,  vibrate  rapidly,  producing  a  rustling  sound 
among  the  leaves.'  ^  Others  of  the  family  have  horny 

Dr.  Andrew  Smith,  in  his  Zoology  of  South  Africa, 
mentions  Vipera  caiidalis  especially,  as  having  a  'tail  distinctly 
recognised,  at  the  termination  of  his  very  thick  body,  and 
which  is  not  often  seen.'  In  the  vipers,  however,  more  than 
others,  tails  are  distinguishable,  those  of  many  of  them  being 
short  as  well  as  suddenly  tapering  to  a  point.  The  deadly 
Puff  adder  is  called  BracJiyiira  on  this  account,  its  tail 
being  extremely  short  for  the  size  of  the  snake.  One 
exceedingly  dangerous  kind  in  St.  Lucia  is  known  as  the 
'  Rat-tailed  snake.'  For  climbing,  and  as  a  propelling  power, 
this  slender  tail  can  be  of  little  service.  In  St.  Lucia  is  also 
a  '  Rat  snake,'  Crcbo  or  Cribo  in  vernacular  {Spilotes 
variabilis),  one  of  the  active  non-venomous  kinds  which,  not 
content  with  rats  and  mice  for  food,  wages  war  on  its  most 
venomous  fellow-reptiles;  as  the  'Racer'  and  the  'King 
snake'  do  against  the  rattlesnake  of  the  United  States. 
This  Crcbo  is  a  graceful,  elegant  creature,  and  on  account  of 

1  RcplUcs  of  British  India. 

1 78  SNAKES, 

its  twofold  virtues  of  mouser  and  'rat-tail'  catcher,  is 
domesticated  and  petted  in  some  of  the  islands.^ 

In  many  of  the  Colubrine  snakes  it  is  almost  impossible 
to  distinguish  where  the  ribs  cease  and  the  tail  begins,  except 
by  the  anus,  so  very  gradually  does  the  body  taper.  Nor 
does  there  appear  to  be  any  certain  rule  about  the  length 
of  tails,  which  in  some  snakes  are  even  longer  than  their 
bodies,  and  in  others  not  one-tenth  the  length. 

In  giving  the  length  of  a  few  snakes  (not  in  feet  or 
inches,  but  in  the  number  of  their  vertebrae),  the  reader 
will  obtain  a  clear  idea  of  this  variation  in  tails.  One 
species  of  rattlesnake  has  194  vertebrae,  of  which  168  support 
each  a  pair  of  ribs,  leaving  24  for  its  tail,  or  one-eighth. 
The  python  has  291  vertebrae,  of  which  the  3d  to  the  251st 
support  a  pair  of  ribs,  leaving  40  for  its  tail,  or  less  than 
one-seventh  of  its  length. 

Let  me  explain  a  seeming  discrepancy  of  arithmetic. 
The  spine  of  the  boa  constrictor  consists  of  304  vertebrae, 
of  which  2  next  the  head  support  no  ribs,  and  252  support 
each  a  pair  of  ribs.  Taking  away  the  first  two,  which, 
having  no  ribs,  may  be  said  to  form  the  neck  of  the  snake, 
that  leaves  fifty  joints  for  the  tail,  or  about  one-sixth  of 
the  entire  length.  Our  little  sums,  therefore,  are  as  follows, 
in  reckoning  the  vertebras  : — 


Neck,      ...         2  Neck,      ...         2  Neck, .     .         2 

Supporting  ribs,      168  Supporting  ribs,     252  With  ribs,     249 

Tail,  ....       24  Tail,  ....       50  Tail,    .     .       40 

Total,      194  Total,     304  Total,     291 

^  Dr.  A.  Stradling  affirms  that  these  two  snakes  do  not  invariably  molest  each 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE,  179 

Thouo-h  In  form  the  '  neck '  of  a  snake  is  often  as  undis- 


tinguishable  as  the  tail — 'une  tete  sans  col,  et  une  queue, 
dont  I'origine  se  confond  avec  le  reste  du  corps,'  as  Dumeril 
expresses  it — there  is  the  one  invariable  rule  belonging  to 
it,  namely,  that  the  first  two  joints  of  a  snake's  spine  are 
ribless,  and  that  the  ribs  begin  at  the  third.  Physiologists 
tell  us  a  snake  has  no  neck,  and  for  reasons  which  will  be 
explained  in  the  next  chapter ;  yet,  by  way  of  distinction, 
all  speak  of  *  the  neck '  as  an  accepted  fact. 

No  invariable  rule  as  to  tails  can,  however,  be  established, 
either  as  regards  length,  shape,  or  character.  Firstly,  the 
length  of  the  tail  varies  from  inches  to  feet  in  snakes  of 
nearly  the  same  size.  Secondly,  both  venomous  and  harm- 
less ones  are  occasionally  furnished  with  horny  tips,  and 
both  vibrate  them  with  equal  rapidity.  Thirdly,  snakes 
that  have  long  spineless  tails  also  vibrate  them  rapidly ;  as 
do  snakes  with  short  spineless  tails;  so  that  one  cannot 
say  that  spines  are  confined  to  one  genus,  any  more  than 
is  their  use  or  their  action.  The  vibration  of  the  tail  is,  in 
fact,  only  'an  outlet  for  suppressed  energy,'  as  Professor 
Shaler  of  the  United  States  has  lucidly  put  it.  Excitement 
displays  itself  in  the  tail  of  a  snake  as  much  as  in  the  tail 
of  a  dog.  This  may  be  observed  at  the  Ophidarium,  or 
wherever  an  active  snake  can  be  watched.  In  the  rattle- 
snake it  is,  of  course,  more  conspicuous,  and  always  audible 
when  agitated ;  but  many  others  similarly  display  their 
feelings  in  their  eloquent  caudal  terminations. 

A  handsome  young  python,  of  about  eight  feet  long,  at 

other.  He  had  the  Rat-tail  {Fer  de  lame)  and  two  Cribos  with  others  in  one 
cage,  living  on  peaceful  terms. 

i8o  SNAKES. 

the  Zoological  Gardens,  has  a  tail  of  which  the  last  few- 
inches  taper  so  suddenly  that  the  extreme  end  of  this 
reptile  appears  almost  ludicrously  trivial  for  so  fine  a  pos- 
sessor. One  inch  of  this — hardly  thicker  than  a  rat's  tail — 
you  may  see  wriggling  so  rapidly  that  you  can  scarcely  follow 
its  movements,  or  believe  that  it  is  a  part  of  the  large 
quiescent  body  to  which  it  is  attached.  In  pursuit  of  its 
prey  the  python  itself  glides  with  slow  dignity,  while  the 
trifling  little  terminal  inch  or  so  of  tail  is  in  a  perpetual 
but  most  ^///dignified  wriggle. 

In  the  *  Racer,'  already  familiar  to  the  reader,  the  tail  is 
one-fourth  the  length  of  the  body ;  in  the  *  milk  snake ' 
{Coluber  exiinius),  introduced  in  chapter  iv.,  it  is  one-fifth. 
The  extensive  variation  in  tails  may  be  comprehended  by 
their  number  of  vertebrae,  which  in  some  snakes  amount  to 
200,  and  in  others  are  reduced  to  5. 

Of  the  practical  uses  of  the  snake's  tail,  the  natitral  uses, 
— those  above  mentioned  being  either  imaginary  ones,  or 
a  mere  expression  of  feeling, — the  prehensile  power  is  one 
of  the  greatest.  *  Strictly  speaking,  the  true  prehensile 
tail  is  found  only  in  the  boa,'  Schlegel,  Owen,  and  other 
physiologists  tell  us;  but  that  statement  refers  to  some 
peculiar  anatomical  construction,  enabling  the  tail  to  twine 
and  grasp  with  extraordinary  force,  because  nearly  all 
snakes  can  manage  to  climb,  or  to  raise  themselves  when 
occasion  requires  it,  making  use  of  their  tails,  as  was  stated 
at  the  commencement  of  this  chapter.  '  Even  the  clumsy, 
ugly  death  adder  can  climb  well,'  Krefi"t  assures  us,  and  that 
it  can  support  itself  against  a  wall  with  only  a  portion  of 
its  tail  on  the  ground. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  i8i 

Many  writers  and  observers,  in  describing  this  power  or 
force  in  the  snake,  have  given  rise  to  the  idea  that  snakes 
can  sta7id  on  their  tails.  Erect  themselves  nearly  upright 
they  certainly  do,  even  without  extraneous  support  for  a  few 
moments,  and  with  support  for  a  considerable  time. 

Cobras  can  do  this.     A  personal  friend,  Colonel  C , 

when  in  India,  once  heard  a  sort  of  muffled  sound  at  his 
door,  which  caused  him  to  open  it  suddenly,  when  a 
cobra,  which  had  raised  itself  three  or  more  feet  against 
it,  fell  straight  into  the  room.  He  sprang  quickly  aside, 
and  ran  to  fetch  a  stick,  but  when  he  got  back  the  cobra 
was  gone. 

But  to  return  to  their  prehensile  powers.  Snakes  which 
are  not  habitual  climbers  are  often  found  in  trees,  suspend- 
ing themselves  from  or  supporting  themselves  upon  the 
branches,  as  instanced  in  the  chapter  on  the  egg-eaters. 
The  Hamadryad  is  also  much  in  trees,  as  its  name 
implies,  and  is  seen,  hanging  from  the  branches.  This 
latter,  and  also  the  Indian  tree  snakes,  Trimeresiiri,  are 
poisonous,  and  far  removed  from  the  boas  with  the 
true  prehensile  tail.  Familiar  to  every  one  are  illustra- 
tions of  tropical  scenery,  in  which  the  boa  constrictor 
and  the  anaconda,  hanging  from  trees,  are  important 
features.  Dumeril,  in  general  terms,  says:  *Les  ophidiens 
rampent,  glissent,  s'accrochent,  se  suspendent,  gravissent 
en  s'aidant  de  la  totalite  de  leur  corps,  sautent,  s'elancent, 
bondlssent,  nagent,  et  plongent,'  ^  in  every  one  of  which 
movements  the  tail  is  an  important  agent.  Saccrocher  and 
se  siispeudre   must   be   mainly   by  the   agency  of  the   tail. 

*  Erpctologie  gencraky  tome  i.  p.  47. 

1 83  SNAKES. 

Schlegel  follows  up  his  statement,  '  tail  strictly  prehensile 
found  only  in  boas,'  by  explaining,  nevertheless,  that  a  short 
tail  Is  sufficiently  vigorous  to  attach  itself  to  any  point, 
and  support  the  whole  body.^  In  the  non-venomous  tree 
snakes  the  tail  is  long  and  slender,  and  no  squirrel  or  bird 
is  more  active  and  at  home  in  a  tree  than  these.  They 
glide,  swing,  climb,  and  almost  fly  from  branch  to  branch, 
scarcely  disturbing  a  leaf. 

Our  'excellent  Qgg  merchant,'  introduced  as  the  Racer, 
though  a  ground  snake,  is  equally  at  home  in  a  tree,  and 
holds  on  by  its  tail  with  remarkable  adroitness,  but  then 
the  Racer  or  '  Pilot  snake '  is  a  true  boa  also.  (The  true 
'boa'  is  distinguished  by  its  dentition  and  formation  of 
jaw-bones,  the  term  'boa,'  so  variously  and  perplexingly 
used  by  some  of  the  older  naturalists,  being  now  restricted 
to  certain  non-venomous  species  which  possess  such  ana- 
tomical structure.) 

Lawson's  description  of  this  '  Racer '  is  graphic.  '  The 
long  black  Snake  frequents  the  Land  altogether,  and  is  the 
nimblest  Creature  living.  His  Bite  has  no  more  Venom  than 
a  Prick  with  a  Pin.  He  is  the  best  Mouser  that  can  be  ;  for 
he  leaves  not  one  of  that  Vermin  alive  where  he  comes.  He 
also  kills  the  Rattlesnake  wherever  he  meets  him  by  twisting 
his  Head  about  the  Neck  of  the  Rattlesnake,  and  whipping  him 
to  Death  with  his  Tail.  This  Whipster,  for  all  his  Agility,  is  so 
brittle  that  when  he  is  pursued,  and  gets  his  Head  into  the 
Hole  of  a  Tree,  if  anybody  gets  hold  of  the  other  End,  he 
will  twist  and  break  himself  in  the  Middle.' 
■    Lawson  does  not  appear  to  have  understood  the  nature  of 

^  Essai  sur  la  physiognomie  des  serpents,  par  Herman  Schlegel.    Amsterdam,  1837. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE,  183 

constrictors.  ^  Whipping '  the  rattlesnake  was  probably  only 
the  tail  lashed  in  anger,  or  used  in  controlling  the  exceedingly 
active  movements  of  the  captor.  As  for  its  'breaking  itself 
in  halves,'  many  exaggerated  stories  are  told  by  unscientific 
spectators  of  the  '  brittleness  '  of  snakes,  the  simple  explana- 
tion being  that  all  are  alike  irritated  and  terrified  when 
rendered  helpless  by  their  tail  being  fettered,  and  may  then 
struggle  until  they  injure  themselves.  The  common  blind- 
worm  {Ajtgiiis  fragilis)  has  been  seen  to  so-call  'break 
itself  in  halves ; '  but  this  will  be  explained  in  its  place 
(chap.  XXV.). 

This  sensitiveness — sensibility,  one  may  almost  term  it — in 
the  tail  of  snakes  has  been  pointed  out  by  the  late  Frank  Buck- 
land,  Dr.  Stradling,  and  others  of  like  practical  experience, 
affording  useful  information  in  case  of  danger.  '  If  attacked 
by  a  boa  constrictor,  it  is  of  no  use  to  pull  and  haul,  but 
catch  hold  of  the  tip  of  the  tail  and  unwind  him.'  Also, 
'  when  striking,  aim  at  the  tail.  The  spinal  cord  there  being 
only  thinly  covered  with  bone,  it  is  more  easily  wounded  ; 
and  when  the  spine  is  broken,  the  animal  is  disabled.'  ^ 

Certain  it  is,  that  by  the  muscular  power  of  the  tail  snakes 
perform  wonderful  feats,  not  only  erecting  themselves,  and 
maintaining  their  balance  for  a  short  time,  as  a  long  pole  is 
balanced  by  an  acrobat  on  his  chin  or  his  nose ;  hanging  by 
an  inch  or  so  of  the  tip,  as  an  acrobat  hangs  for  a  time  on 
one  foot  or  one  finger ;  raising  themselves  against  a  smooth 
surface,  as  you  see  the  large  pythons  at  the  Gardens  do 
against  the  smooth  sides  or  glass  fronts  of  their  cages,  even 
to  the  very  top,  but  springing,  '  executing  leaps,'  as  Roget 

^  Curiosities  of  Natural  History,  by  F.  Buckland. 

1 84  SNAKES. 

and  others  term  it.  For  though  the  'leap'  Is  not  strictly 
like  the  action  of  a  frog  or  a  grasshopper,  or  a  man  whose 
two  limbs  act  in  concert  and  together,  the  result  is  the 
same, — the  reptile  accomplishes  a  long  distance  with  quick- 
ness, decision,  and  aim.  Professor  Owen  ^  calls  it  a  saltatory 
motion,  'the  sudden  extension  of  the  coils  of  the  body  react- 
ing upon  the  point  of  earth  on  which  the  tail  presses,  throwing 
the  serpent  forward.'  Sometimes,  when  the  creature  lies 
closely  coiled,  the  sudden  unbending  has  the  effect  of  a 
spiral  spring ;  and  occasionally,  when  the  tail  is  brought 
suddenly  up  to  the  head,  and  the  serpent  springs  forward 
again,  and  continues  to  do  this  in  pursuit,  as  has  often  been 
witnessed,  the  effect  is  that  of  a  rolling  hoop,  and  has  given 
rise  to  a  belief  among  the  ignorant  that  the  reptile  really 
rolls  along. 

One  in  America,  known  as  the  '  Hoop  snake,'  is  reported 
to  '  roll  down  hill,'  the  idea  originating  possibly  from  the 
optical  illusion  in  consequence  of  the  rapid  changes  of 
position — an  effect  which  we  see  in  that  amusing  toy,  the 

The  '  black  snake '  of  Australia,  HopIocepJialus  pseudechis^ 
is  one  of  the  very  active  venomous  kinds,  whose  motions 
in  pursuit  or  escape  are  almost  like  leaps,  and  present 
the  appearance  of  a  hoop  or  circle.  Reputed  '  hoop  snakes  ' 
are  there  also.  The  reptile  rapidly  extends  itself  to  full 
length,  then  brings  up  its  posterior  portion  in  a  loop,  and 
so  springs  forward  again,  continuing  to  do  this  with  amazing 

The  most  easy  and  natural  convolutions  of  a  snake  are 

1  Anatonty  of  the  Vertebrates,  p.  260. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  185 

lateral.  As  closely  as  their  body  can  be  coiled  on  a  given 
space,  as  close  as  a  ribbon  or  a  rope,  they  can  curl  themselves 
round  sideways,  that  is,  with  the  ventral  scales  all  prone  to 
the  ground,  and  the  vertebral  column  upwards  ;  nor  could 
they,  from  the  construction  of  their  spine,  coil  themselves 
similarly  in  a  vertical  position,  as  a  hedgehog  and  a  dormouse 
roll  themselves  up.  But  temporarily  and  partially  they  can 
bend  themselves  vertically ;  for  you  see  a  snake  often  with  a 
part  of  its  body  raised  vertically  against  a  wall,  while  the 
rest  is  horizontally  along  the  ground,  and  consequently  one 
part  is  at  right  angles  with  the  other  part,  and  as  the  creature 
rises  against  the  wall  every  joint  has  in  turn  taken  this  position. 
Also,  when  coiled  round  a  branch,  you  do  occasionally  see 
that  the  curves  are  not  invariably  and  unexceptionally  lateral, 
but  sometimes  vertical,  although  not  so  closely  so  as  in  the 
more  natural  coils.  I  have  very  narrowly  observed  this, 
because  the  *  hoop  '-like  motion  is  often  ridiculed  ;  but  it 
seems  a  not  impossible  action  when  a  large  circle  is  described 
by  the  body,  though  close  coils  would  be  less  possible.-^ 

A  clergyman  of  Australia  had  a  narrow  escape  from  one 
of  these  'rolling'  creatures.  His  daughter  gave  me  an 
account  of  the  circumstance,  she  also,  when  a  resident  there, 
having  been  well  acquainted  with  such  scenes.  Her  father 
accidentally  trod  on  one  of  those  dangerous  serpents,  which 
immediately  made  a  spring  at  him,  but  which  he  expertly 

'  Since  the  above  was  in  type,  I  have  on  several  occasions  observed  vertical 
coils  in  constricting  snakes.  Twice  a  python  constricted  an  animal  in  distinct 
vertical  coils.  I  drtw  the  attention  of  Keeper  Tyrrell  to  this,  and  we  were  both 
convinced  that  no  lateral  coils  whatever  were  used.  On  another  occasion,  while 
Mr.  Elwes  was  studying  the  action  of  Elaphis  qitater-radiatus  for  the  illustra- 
tion, p.  205,  its  coils  were  entirely  vertical,  not  lateral. 

1 86  SNAKES. 

eluded,  and  took  to  his  heels  with  all  speed,  knowing  the 
vicious  nature  of  that  snake.  Looking  back,  he  saw  the 
reptile  pursuing  him  with  '  strides '  or  '  bounds,'  stretching 
itself  to  full  length,  then  bringing  up  its  tail  and  springing 
forward  again  with  terrific  vigour.  In  its  excitement  it 
seemed  almost  to  fly,  now  gaining  on  him,  and  now,  as 
an  occasional  obstacle  had  to  be  avoided,  giving  his  victim 
some  slight  advantage.  For  the  space  of  three  whole  fields, 
'  paddocks,'  he  was  thus  chased,  he  the  while  using  his 
utmost  speed.  His  home  was  in  the  bush,  and  when, 
almost  dropping  with  excessive  fatigue  and  terror,  he  came 
within  sight  of  it,  one  of  his  farm-servants  saw  him  thus 
tearing  along,  and,  guessing  the  cause,  seized  his  gun,  and 
hastened  to  meet  the  fugitive,  and  put  an  end  to  the 

Du  Chaillu's  snakes  were  almost  always  'springing'  at 
him,  and  very  probably  some  of  them  did  so.  At  the  same 
time,  most  of  his  snakes  had  '  fangs '  as  well ;  but  then,  in 
his  ^  Wild  Life'  he  witnessed  many  other  anomalies. 

As  a  rule,  the  most  active  are  the  non-venomous  kinds  ; 
yet  among  the  venomous  colubrines,  the  slender  elapidce, 
of  which  the  above  Australian  snake  is  one,  we  find  much 

Mr.  P.  H.  Gosse  was  struck  with  the  amazing  springing 
power  of  the  yellow  Jamaica  boa  {CJiilobothrus  inornatus), 
and  by  a  similar  use  of  its  tail  as  a  propelling  power.^  It 
rears  itself  up  and  leaps  an  incredible  distance,  he  tells  us ; 
one  covered  nearly  twenty  feet  in  such  a  spring,  but  that 
was  on  the  incline  of  a  hill.     He  noticed  another  suspending 

^  A  Natwalist  in  yajnaica,  by  P.  H.  Gosse. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  187 

itself  from  a  branch,  not  with  its  tail  airled  round,  but 
with  a  mere  tip  of  it  lying  longitudinally,  pressure  alone 
supporting  the  reptile.  The  slightest  contact  suffices  to 
maintain  the  hold. 

There  is  still  one  more  offending  tail  to  describe.  It 
belongs  to  a  West  Indian  relative  of  our  own  little  '  blind- 
worm,'  bearing  also  the  family  name,  and  for  more  justifiable 
reasons,  inasmuch  as  the  eyes  of  the  Jamaica  species  really 
are  not  easily  distinguished.  It  is  worm-like  in  aspect, 
and  of  about  the  same  size  as  Angids  fragilis,  similarly 
smooth  and  polished,  and  so  active  that  it  is  difficult  to 
hold  it.  Typhlops  hcmbricalis  is  its  name,  the  first  word 
signifying  blind,  and  the  second  worm -like.  It  moves 
backwards  and  forwards  with  equal  facility,  and  is  therefore 
commonly  called  the  *  two-headed  snake.'  The  coloured 
people  are  dreadfully  afraid  of  its  short  blunt  tail,  which 
they  think  can  '  sting,'  and  which  terminates  in  a  minute 
horny  nipple  on  a  shining  round  plate  or  scale.  Being  a 
burrowing  snake,  this  hard,  protected  tail  is  of  great  use 
as  a  fulcrum ;  but  when  off  the  ground,  taken  up  by  the 
hand,  for  instance,  the  little  shining  worm  makes  still  further 
use  of  its  tail,  as  its  English  cousin  does,  pressing  the  tip 
firmly  against  the  fingers,  or  whatever  surface  is  near  it,  to 
support  itself,  and  to  the  terror  of  those  who  hold  it,  and 
who  forthwith  dash  it  down,  though  it  is  wholly  powerless 
to  injure. 

In  Australia  it  has  some  allies,  whose  tails  are  remarkably 
developed  into  this  useful  point.  The  reptiles  being  as 
round  as  rulers  and  as  smooth,  the  difficulty  of  progression 
without  this  aid  as  a  fulcrum  will  be  evident.    Below  are 

1 88     .  SNAKES. 

three  tails,  which   will   suffice   to    exemplify  their   purpose 
and  utility. 

A  curious  modification  is  seen  in  the  centre  tail,  belong- 
ing to  Uropcltis  philippimts,  which,  as  the  name  implies, 
terminates  in  a  round  disk  or  shield.  This  snake  is  also 
one  of  the  smooth  cylindrical  forms,  *  admirably  adapted 
to  burrowing,'  says  Dr.  Giinther.  Its  truncated  appearance 
is  as  if  it  were  chopped  clean  in  halves. 

Tails  of  three  burrowing  snakes. 

Another  is  the  CylindropJiis,  from  its  form.  Several  of 
the  burrowing  family  are  remarkable  for  a  similarity  of 
head  and  tail,  obscure  features,  inconspicuous  eyes,  and 
very  small  mouth,  rendering  it  difficult  on  first  sight  to 
decide  which  is  the  head  and  which  the  tail.  All  beino; 
feeble,  inoffensive,  and  entirely  harmless,  the  evil  attached 
to  them  of  having  *  two  heads '  is  only  another  proof  of  the 
prejudice  and  animosity  displayed  towards  every  creature 
in  the  shape  of  a  snake,  however  innocent.  These  poor 
little  'blind-worms,'  admirably  organized  to  dig  and  burrow 
and  find  their  food  in  deep  and  hidden  places,  have  their 
uses.  In  countries  where  dangerous  ants  swarm,  we  might 
well  tremble  for  the  consequences,  had  not  nature  antici- 
pated such  evils  by  providing  insectivorous  reptiles,  as  well 
as  birds  and  ant-eaters,  to  keep  them  in  check. 

We  must  not  omit  one  other  of  the  family  of  burrowing 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE.  189 

snakes,  which  from  the  very  earliest  ages  has  been  sup- 
posititiously  endowed  with  two  heads.  Its  name,  Amphis- 
bcBiia^  or  Mouble-walker'  (going  both  ways),  however,  is 
well  merited,  because,  like  Typhlops,  it  can  progress  either 
way,  forwards  or  backwards,  with  equal  facility.  This  is  the 
one  alluded  to  by  Catesby  (p.  174).  We  can  comprehend 
the  advantage  of  the  retrogressing  power  to  these  otherwise 
unprotected  little  reptiles,  when  they  cautiously  peep  from 
their  narrow  burrow  in  the  ground,  and  espy  one  of  their 
many  enemies  in  the  shape  of  a  much  larger  ophidian,  or 
a  carnivorous  bird.  Quick  as  thought,  back  they  glide, 
and  are  safe.  Living  chiefly  among  the  ants,  on  which  they 
feed,  their  cuirass  of  hard,  polished,  close-set  scales  protects 
them  from  a  bite  or  sting.  Another  beautiful  provision  of 
nature  is,  that  the  young  ones,  on  being  hatched,  find  food 
ready  at  hand — at  mouth,  rather — the  eggs  having  been 
laid,  or  the  young  ones  born,  in  the  nest  of  the  ants. 

Of  this  harmless  and  useful  reptile,  Pliny  seriously  wrote  : 
'  The  amphisbsena  has  two  heads ;  that  is,  it  has  a  second 
one  at  its  tail,  as  though  one  mouth  were  too  little  for 
the  discharge  of  all  its  venom  ! ' 

Even  at  the  present  day  this  belief  in  *  two  heads,'  or  *  two 
tails,'  and  '  death  at  both  ends,'  is  not  wholly  eradicated, 
and  not  merely  among  the  lower  classes  either. 

It  only  remains  to  say  that  when  two  heads  have  really 
appeared — and  there  are  several  such  cases  on  record — they 
are  simply  monstrosities,  malformations,  as  found  in  other 
animals  occasionally.  An  example  of  this  kind  may  be 
seen  at  the  Museum  of  the  Royal  College  of  Surgeons. 
Another  was    described  by  Frank   Buckland   in   Land  and 

I90  "  SNAKES.  ': 

Water,  April  1872.     It  was  sent  to  him  by  his  friend  Dr. 
Bowerbank  of  St.  Leonard's. 

A  curious  jumble  of  the  Amphisbcena  and  the  Cobra,  with 
its  elevated  and  expanded  neck,  is  found  in  the  Philosophical 
Transactions,  vol.  iii.  p.  863,  for  1665.  There  had  been  a 
correspondence  on  the  subject  of  two  heads,  and  a  reader 
was  evidently  sceptical,  for  the  writer  thus  protests  that  he 
is  telling  the  truth  : — 

*  There  are  indeed  such  Serpents  in  these  Parts  (Java 
Naja)  which  have  an  Head  on  each  End  of  their  Body,  called 
Capra  capella.  They  are  esteemed  Sacred  by  these  People, 
and  fortunate  to  those  in  whose  House  and  Lands  they  are 
found  ;  but  pernicious  to  whomsoever  doth  them  Harm.' 

This  credulous  gentleman  writes  from  the  East,  and  cannot 
corroborate  what  he  has  been  told  by  a  personal  acquaint- 
ance with  even  an  Amphisbaena,  Which  might  really  deceive 
a  casual  observer.  But  that  the  belief  prevailed  extensively 
prior  to  this,  we  find  from  a  distinguished  physician  of  his 
day,  F.  Hermandez,  or  Fernandez,  who,  in  his  work,  Ani- 
malium  Mexicanuin,  1628,  represents  a  creature  that  would 
fill  one  of  these  pages,  with  two  heads  like  a  ram  with 
wattles  and  other  ample  appendages,  and  distinguishes  it  as 
Amphisbcena  Enropcea. 

*  It  is  not  for  us  to  question  the  Ancients,* 
says  the  much  too  modest  author,  betray-' 
ing  a  lurking  misgiving  as  to  the  reality 
of  the  creature,  but  nevertheless  doing  his 
best   to   represent    it    as   his   imagination  ^"^^^"^^^"^^"-'^J^^-- 
depicts  it.      It  is  here  much    reduced  in  size,  but    may  be 
found  on  p.  797  of  the  above  very  interesting  volume. 

THE  TAIL  OF  A  SNAKE, „       191 

Sir  Thomas  Browne  includes  this  among  his  'Vulgar 
Errours,'  and  traces  it  to  Nicander,  Galen,  and  other  classic 
writers,  but  to  '  ^lian  most  confidently.'  He  discusses  the 
creature  with  dispassionate  intelligence,  and  shows  us  that 
*  poets  have  been  more  reasonable  than  philosophers '  about 
it.^  'Again,  if  such  a  thing  there  were,  it  were  not  to  be 
obtruded  by  the  name  of  Ainphisbcena,  or  as  an  animal  of 
one  denomination,  with  a  duplicity  of  hearts  and  heads,'  he 
argues,  giving  honour  to  the  head,  and  therefore  that  the 
creature  must  be  dual. 

There  are  frequently  some  of  the  smooth,  ruler-like  snakes 
in  our  London  Reptilium  ;  their  very  small  eyes  and  mouth, 
and  blunt,  shapeless  head,  render  it  difficult  to  decide  at  the 
moment  between  head  and  tail.  Any  with  sheep's  heads  we 
are  not  likely  to  see,  and  those  that  have  had  the  malforma- 
tion of  two  reptilian  heads  generally  present  something  of 
two  necks  as  well.  The  writers,  however,  whom  we  have 
quoted  were  not  thinking  of  monstrosities,  but  had  pro- 
found faith  in  a  veritable  Aviphisbcena  Eiiropcea,  which  an 
artist  with  an  unscientific  imagination  has  handed  down  to 
posterity ! 

1  Pseitdoxia,  Book  iii.  chap,  xx.  p.  155. 



BEFORE  discussing  the  most  remarkable  of  all  ophidian 
caudal  appendages,  the  Crotalus  rattle,  and  the  many 
speculations  regarding  it,  we  will  enumerate  some  other 
acrobatic  achievements  of  which  snakes  are  capable  ;  as,  in 
accounting  for  these,  some  interesting  facts  appertaining  to 
their  anatomical  structure  can  be  described. 

A  humorous  journalist  has  said,  '  There  is  apparently  no- 
thing that  a  snake  can  not  do,  except  swallow  a  porcupine.'  ^ 
Presuming  that  he  alludes  to  physical  feats,  he  is  not  far 
from  wrong.  For  all  that,  the  Western  pioneers  of  America 
tell  us  of  yet  one  more  thing  that  these  reptiles  cannot 
accomplish,    and    that   is,  cross  over  a  rope   of  horse-hair. 

'  Since  this  was  in  type,  I  find  that  not  even  a  porcupine  is  safe  from  a  hungry 

snake.     In  vol.  xliii.  of  the  Philosophical  Transactions  (1744),  p.  271,  is  a  letter 

from  a  gentleman  in  India,  who  states  that  on  an  island  near  Bombay  a  dead 

snake  was  found  with  the  quills  of  a  porcupine  'sticking  out  of  its  Belly. '     The 

snake   had  'sucked  it  in  Head  foremost,   while  the  Quills  were  flatted  down. 

Afterwards  they  rose  and  ran  through  the  Snake's  Belly,  and  so  killed  it.'     The 

pressure  of  the  jaws  had   '  flatted '  the  quills,  but  not  killed  the  animal,  which, 

when  in  its  expansile  tomb,  had,  though  vainly,  erected  its  natural  armour. 




Having"  by  accident  discovered  that  they  turn  aside  from 
this,  some  Western  settlers,  when  camping  out,  have 
effectually  entrenched  themselves  within  a  circle  of  horse-hair 
rope  as  a  barrier  to  rattlesnakes  while  sleeping. 

Let  us  try  to  account  for  this.  ^ 

Many  of  my  readers  have  seen  the  cast-off  coat  of  a  snake. 
Those  who  have  not  can  have  the  pleasure  of  examining  one 
or  several  the  next  time  they  go  to  the  Zoological  Gardens, 
where  the  obliging  keeper  will  cheerfully  exhibit  them. 
Others  at  a  distance  may  not  enjoy  this  facility,  and  for 
these  the  accompanying  diagrams  may  be  a  slight  com- 

Portion  of  slough  of  a  rattle- 
snake (exact  size). 

Ventral  scales  of  the  same,  and 
a  section. 

The  whole  cuticle  or  epidermis  of  a  serpent  is  composed 
of  these  overlapping  scales,  of  which  the  above  illustrations 
are  only  fragments.  Thus  when  we  speak  of  their  scales,  we 
do  not  mean  distinct  and  separable  laminae,  like  the  scales 
of  some  fishes,  each  of  which  may  be  scraped  or  plucked  off, 


194  SiVAKES. 

and  which  overlie  each  other  like  the  feathers  of  birds.  The 
covering  of  a  snake  is  one  entire  piece,  loose-fitting,  and  so 
arranged  as  to  lie  in  those  scale-like  folds  which  accommo- 
date themselves  to  every  movement  of  the  body.  The 
ventral  or  under  scales  are,  in  fact,  a  regular  kilting,  as  may 
be  seen  by  the  section;  and  the  upper  ones  correspond 
somewhat  with  what  our  lady  friends  call  the  shell  or  the 
leaf  pattern  in  knitting  work.  The  outer  or  exposed  folds  are 
stronger,  thicker,  and  more  hardened  than  the  inner  parts, 
just  as  the  knitter  *  throws  up'  her  pattern  with  a  coarser 
wool  or  larger  needles,  and  knits  the  less  conspicuous  parts 
in  a  softer  material.  The  naked  space  of  thinner  skin  be- 
tween these  scales  being  very  considerable,  one  can  therefore 
easily  understand  how,  when  a  snake  would  attempt  to  pass 
over  a  horse-hair  rope,  the  sharp,  prickly  hairs,  standing  out 
cJievaiix-de-frise  fashion,  would  insinuate  themselves  unpleas- 
antly in  those  softer  and  more  vulnerable  interstices  which 
become  exposed  by  the  sinuations  of  the  body.  Probably,  if 
we  knew  it,  or  had  an  opportunity  of  observing,  we  should 
ascertain  that  snakes  do  not  crawl  over  furze  bushes,  or 
thistles,  or  the  prickly  pear  {opiuitici)^  or  any  similar  vegeta- 
tion of  tropical  climates,  and  for  the  same  reason.  The 
close-scaled  burrowing  snakes,  with  their  hard  and  strong 
cuirass  all  round  them,  might  have  nothing  to  fear  from  a 
furze  bush  ;  but  this  is  mere  speculation.  That  fine,  sharp 
spines  or  prickles,  and  therefore  a  horse-hair  rope,  would 
incommode  the  tender  intermediate  epidermal  folds  of  other 
snakes,  we  can  well  suppose.  Had  they  sense  enough  to  kap 
the  obstacle,  this  they  could  easily  do,  after  the  manner 
of   'leaping'   already  described;  but  the  'leap'   is  only  an 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  195 

instinctive  action  used  in  pursuit  or  escape  ;  and  it  may  be 
equally  instinctive  to  turn  aside  from  uncomfortable  obstacles, 
whether  prickly  pears  or  horse-hair  ropes. 

Mr.  Ruskin,  in  his  highly-entertaining  lecture  on  '  Snakes/ 
at  the  London  Institution,  March  1880  (a  lecture  which,  by 
the  way,  was  artistic,  poetic,  figurative,  imaginative — *  Snakes  ' 
from  a  Ruskin,  but  not  a  zoological,  point  of  view),  remarked 
*  that  no  scientific  book  tells  us  why  the  reptile  is  a  "  serpent," 
i.e.  serpentine  in  its  motions,  and  why  it  cannot  go  straight.' 
Now,  may  not  the  fact  that  snakes  have  acquired  these 
ever-varying  sinuations  arise  from  their  sensitiveness  to  the 
slightest,  and  what  would  be  to  other  creatures  almost 
impalpable,  obstructions  in  their  path  ? — mere  inequalities 
which  in  their  lazy  nature  it  is  easier,  they  know  not  why, 
to  circumvent  than  to  surmount ;  because  they  can  go 
straight,  and  do  go  straight  when  the  way  is  plain. 

Rymer  Jones,  in  his  Organizatio7i  of  the  Animal  Kingdoniy 
thinks  that  their  sense  of  touch  from  the  nature  of  their 
integument  must  be  extremely  imperfect  ;  they  being  '  de- 
prived of  any  limbs  which  can  be  regarded  as  tactile  organs,' 
p.  753.  But  close  observation  leads  one  to  agree  rather 
with  a  much  older  writer,  Roget,  who,  in  his  Animal  PJiysi- 
ology^  intimates  that  the  peculiar  conformation  of  serpents 
must  be  exceedingly  favourable  to  the  acquisition  of  correct 
perceptions  of  touch,  and  that  these  perceptions  which  lead 
to  a  perfect  acquaintance  with  the  tangible  properties  of 
surrounding  bodies  must  contribute  much  to  the  sagacity  of 
snakes ; — that  their  whole  body  is  a  hand,  conferring  some 
of  the  advantages  of  that  instrument. 

That   this   latter  faculty  is  strictly  and   marvellously  the 

196  SiVAKES. 

case,  we  shall  presently  see,  owing  to  the  flexibility  of  the 
spine,  and  its  capability  of  grasping  and  twining  round 
objects  of  almost  any  shape,  and  of  taking,  as  Roget  says, 
'their  exact  measure.'  For  this  grasping  power  is  not 
confined  to  the  constricting  snakes  only.  In  all  snakes  a 
great  flexibility  is  abundantly  provided  for  in  the  con- 
struction of  '  these  lithe  and  elegant  beings,'  as  Rymer 
Jones  in  unprejudiced  language  calls  them  (p.  724  of  the 
book  above  quoted)  ;  '  the  spinal  column  admits  the  utmost 
pliancy  of  motion  In  any  required  direction.' 

Though  snakes  have  no  limbs  externally,  'the  work  of 
hands,  feet,  and  fins  is  performed  by  a  modification  of  the 
vertebral  column.'  ^  '  Except  flying,  there  is  no  limit  to 
their  locomotion,'  said  Professor  Huxley  in  /as  lecture  on 
'  Snakes,'  a  (qw  weeks  previously  to  that  of  Ruskin,  and 
under  the  same  roof.  To  both  these  lectures  we  shall  again 
refer,  as  the  reader  will  feel  sure  that  all  coming  from  such 
sources  must  add  value  to  the  present  writer's  arguments. 

As  *  flying,'  the  swift  motions  of  many  snakes  have  been 
described  by  ancient  writers,  as,  for  example,  the  'flying 
serpents '  of  Scripture,  though  these  are  by  many  supposed 
to  be  the  Dracunculiy  the  earliest  known  of  human  parasites. 
The  astonishing  movements  of  serpents  were,  however,  in 
superstitious  ages  ascribed  to  supernatural  agency.  Says 
Pliny :  '  The  Jaculus  darts  from  trees,  flies  through  the  air  as 
if  it  were  hurled  from  an  engine.'  The  '  wisest  of  men ' 
admitted  that  the  actions  of  serpents  were  beyond  his  com- 
prehension ;  *  the  way  of  a  serpent  on  a  rock '  was  '  too 
wonderful '  for  him. 

^  Owen's  Anatomy  of  the  Vertebrates,  p.  261. 


Even  in  intermediate  ages,  when  travellers  and  naturalists 
began  to  confront  fiction  with  fact,  even  in  the  days  of  Buffon 
and  Lacepede,  a  serpent  was  regarded  as  a  living  allegory 
rather  than  a  zoological  reality  by  many  intelligent,  albeit 
unscientific  persons.  Of  such  was  Chateaubriand,  whose 
contemplation  of  the  serpent  partook  of  religious  awe. 
*  Everything  is  mysterious,  secret,  astonishing  in  this  in- 
comprehensible reptile.  His  movements  differ  from  those 
of  all  other  animals.  It  is  impossible  to  say  where  his 
locomotive  principle  lies,  for  he  has  neither  fins,  nor  feet, 
nor  wings ;  and  yet  he  flits  like  a  shadow,  he  vanishes 
as  if  by  magic,  he  reappears,  and  is  gone  again  like  a 
light  azure  vapour  on  the  gleams  of  a  sabre  in  the  dark. 
Now  he  curls  himself  into  a  circle,  and  projects  a  tongue 
of  fire  ;  now  standing  erect  upon  the  extremity  of  his  tail 
he  moves  as  if  by  enchantment.  He  rolls  himself  into  a 
ball,  rises  and  falls  like  a  spiral  line,  gives  to  his  rings 
the  undulations  of  a  wave,  twines  round  the  branches  of 
trees,  glides  under  the  grass  of  the  meadow,  or  skims  along 
the  surface  of  the  water,'  and  so  forth.^ 

Excepting  the  'tongue  of  fire,'  the  whole  of  this  poetic 
description  is  so  far  true  and  unexaggerated,  that  Chateau- 
briand has  not  attributed  to  the  reptile  one  action  of 
which  it  is  not  capable,  and  which,  to  the  untutored  mind, 
might  well  seem  supernatural.  Roget,  Schlegel,  Huxley, 
and  others  tell  us  the  same  things  in  the  language  of 
science.  To  quote  them  all  is  impossible ;  the  reader 
will  be  content  with  one  scientific  assurance  of  ophidian 
capabilities,  not  less  poetic  than  Chateaubriand's. 

^  Genius  of  Christianity. 

198  SNAKES. 

Professor  Owen,  in  describing  the  bony  structure  of  the 
Ophidia,  and  in  allusion  to  the  scriptural  text — 'Upon  thy 
belly  shalt  thou  go  ' — affirms  that  so  far  from  the  reptiles 
being  degraded  from  a  higher  type,  their  whole  organization 
demonstrates  how  exquisitely  their  parts  are  adapted  to 
their  necessities,  and  thus  proceeds  :  '  They  can  outclimb  the 
monkey,  outswim  the  fish,  outleap  the  jerboa,  and  suddenly 
loosing  the  coils  of  their  crouching  spiral,  they  can  spring 
into  the  air  and  seize  the  bird  upon  its  wing.' 

The  active  snakes  can  always  '  leap '  their  own  length, 
whether  upwards  to  seize  a  bird,  or  horizontally,  and,  as  in  the 
case  of  the  Jamaica  boa  (described  p.  186),  can  leap  much 
farther  from  a  similar  impetus  when  the  direction  is  doivn- 
7vards.  Indeed,  they  can  let  themselves  fall  from  a  certain 
elevation  with  an  additional  impetus  to  progress,  as  a  boy 
first  runs  in  order  to  leap  a  ditch. 

*  With  neither  hands  nor  talons,  they  can  out-wrestle  the 
athlete,  and  crush  their  prey  in  the  embrace  of  their  pon- 
derous, over-lapping  folds.  .  .  .  Instead  of  licking  up  its 
food  as  it  glides  along,  the  serpent  uplifts  its  crushed  pre}^, 
and  presents  it  grasped  in  its  death-like  coil,  as  in  a  hand, 
to  its  gaping  mouth.' ^ 

A  similarly  graphic  account  is  given  by  Rymer  Jones, 
p.  718  of  his  work,^  that  will  be  read  with  interest  by 
those  who  wish  to  pursue  the  study  scientifically. 

In  watching  the  larger  constricting  snakes  while  feeding, 
you  see  how  dexterously  they  manage. — (One  may  use  this 
word  here,  because  those  above  quoted,  *  as  in  a  hand,'  are 

'  Anatomy  of  the  Vertebrates,  vol.  iii.  p.  260  et  seq, 
^  Organization  of  the  Animal  Kingdom. 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  199 

literally,  scientifically  true  ;  therefore  we  may  suppose  fingers 
as  well  as  a  hand,  and  say  how  dexterously  the  creatures 
bring  their  coils  to  their  aid.) 

They  have  quickly  strangled  and  begun  to  eat,  say  an 
opossum  or  a  turkey  buzzard,  when  a  part  of  the  prey 
not  swallowed  offers  some  impediment  to  the  expanded 
jaws  ;  the  wings  or  legs  may  be  inconveniently  extended, 
or  have  become  wedged  between  some  immoveable  ob- 
stacles— a  log,  a  narrow  space,  or  under  a  portion  of  them- 
selves. Their  mouth,  the  only  apparent  grasping  agent,  is 
already  occupied,  and  a  strain  sufficiently  powerful,  while  the 
jaws  are  thus  retaining  the  prey,  would  be  painful  to  the 
feeder,  might  even  drag  back  the  food,  to  the  injury  of 
the  engaged  teeth.  How  does  the  reptile  proceed  in  this 
emergency  ?  With  the  lightness  and  deftness  of  enormous 
strength,  it  applies  two  folds  of  its  body,  two  loops  of  its 
own  coils,  and  with  them  drags  forth,  lifts  up,  or  otherwise 
adjusts  its  prey  in  a  more  convenient  position — in  fact, 
'presents  it  as  in  a  hand'  to  its  own  mouth. 

A  very  remarkable  instance  of  a  constricting  snake  thus 
using  its  coils  is  related  by  Dr.  Elliott  Coues,  of  the  United 
States  army,  late  surgeon  and  naturalist  to  the  United 
States  Northern  Boundary  Commission.  He  witnessed  one 
of  those  frequent  combats  between  the  Racer  and  the 
Rattlesnake,  in  which  the  former — and  in  far  less  time 
than  it  takes  to  read  one  line  of  this  page — threw  two 
folds  or  coils  round  his  adversary,  one  coil  of  the  anterior 
portion  of  his  own  body  round  one  part,  and  a  second 
coil  of  the  posterior  portion  of  his  own  body  round  another 
part,  and  then,  by  a  sudden  extension  of  himself,  tore  the 

200  SNAKES. 

rattlesnake  in  halves.  And  this  was  done  with  greater 
ease  and  swiftness  than  we  could  snap  a  thread  which  we 
must  first  secure  round  the  fingers  of  our  two  hands.  As 
if  indeed  possessed  of  two  hands,  the  constrictor  snapped 
his  foe  in  twain.     This  is  Lawson's  'Whipster/  p.  182. 

The  coiling  of  the  constricting  snakes  is  like  lightning  ; 
you  cannot  follow  the  movements.  In  this  case  death 
must  have  been  instantaneous,  and  indeed  it  is  doubtful 
whether  any  beast  or  bird  of  prey  puts  his  victim  to  a  more 
speedy  and  less  torturing  death  than  the  constrictors  when 
following  their  own  instincts. 

Repairing  to  the  Zoological  Gardens  in  the  hope  of 
witnessing  the  wonderful  adaptation  of  coils  to  manual 
uses,  after  reading  what  Roget  and  Owen  had  affirmed, 
one  soon  had  a  favourable  opportunity  in  watching  a  python. 
It  was,  I  think,  in  June  1874,  and  the  poor  python  had  a 
ruptured  side.  In  spite  of  which — as  my  zoological  notes 
record — '  it  helped  by  the  folds  of  its  body  to  get  the  wings 
of  the  duck  down  flat  and  close,  so  as  to  swallow  it  more 
easily.  With  reason  does  Roget  say,  "  Its  whole  body  is  a 
hand,"  for  it  used  its  loops  to  hold  and  to  push  and  to  flatten 
in  a  manner  truly  intelligent' 

Such  was  my  first  entry  and  observation.  Subsequently, 
and  indeed  almost  on  every  feeding  day,  the  same  kind  of 
thing  was  to  be  seen  at  the  Gardens.  Many  such  examples 
are  recorded  in  my  notebook  ;  but  of  these  one  or  two  later 
notes  will  suffice  to  illustrate  the  subject. 

A  young  python  was  hanging  from  a  branch,  more  than 
half  its  body  curved  as  in  the  accompanying  sketch,  remain- 
ing motionless  and  quiescent,  watching  some  sparrows  which 



202  SNAKES. 

the  keeper  had  just  put  into  the  cage.  The  birds,  eyeing 
certain  insects  among  the  gravel,  seemed  all  unconscious  of 
the  pair  of  glistening  eyes  looking  down  upon  them. 
Suddenly  a  movement,  a  flicker,  like  the  flash  of  a  whip,  and 
the  snake  had  changed  its  position.  Too  quick  for  us  to 
follow  the  motion,  but  in  that  flash  of  time  it  now  hung 
like  a  pendulum,  with  a  sparrow  almost  hidden  in  its 
coils.  The  snake  had  precisely  measured  its  distance, 
reached  down,  and  recoiled  with  the  swiftness  of  an  elastic 
spring.  After  a  few  mmutts,,  feeling  that  its  prey  was  dead, 
it  prepared  to  swallow  it,  holding  it  encircled  in  a  portion 
of  its  body,  while  the  head  was  free  to  commence  the  usual 
examination.  Still  hanging  there,  it  held  and  devoured  the 

On  another  occasion,  one  of  the  larger  pythons  caught  a 
guinea-pig  in  the  same  manner.  This  also  was  so  quick  in 
its  movements  that  one  scarcely  knew  what  had  happened 
until  the  snake  was  seen  to  have  changed  its  position, 
some  of  the  anterior  coils  had  embraced  a  something,  and 
a  quadruped  was  missing.  This  snake  also  still  hung  while 
eating  its  meal,  the  whole  process  occupying  less  than  ten 
minutes.  In  both  these  cases  we  saw  the  prehensile  tail 
in  its  natural  use,  while  the  rest  of  the  body  was  free 
for  action. 

One  of  the  most  remarkable  cases  of  what  w^e  may  call 
independent  constricting  powers,  that  is,  two  or  more  parts 
of  the  reptile  being  engaged  at  the  same  time,  was  in  some 
very  hungry,  or  very  greedy,  or  very  sagacious  little 
constrictors,  the  '  four-rayed  snakes,'  ElapJiis  qiLUter-radiatus. 

They  are   slender  for  their  length,  which  may  be  from 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  203 

three  to  five  feet,  of  an  inconspicuous  colour,  but  with  two 
black  lines  on  each  side,  running  the  whole  length  of  their 
body  ;   hence  their  name,  '  four-lined,'  or  '  four-rayed.'      In 
the  present  instance,  there  were  in  the  same  cage  three  of 
these,  also  one  young  royal  python,  one  small  common  boa, 
and  one  'thick-necked  tree  boa'  {Epicratis  cenchris),  all  con- 
strictors.    The  day  was  close  and  warm  for  April,  and  the 
snakes,  reviving  from  their  winter  torpor,  seemed  particularly 
active  and  lively.     Probably  they  had  not  fed  much  of  late, 
and  thought  now  was  their  opportunity,  for  the  keeper  no 
sooner  threw  the  birds — finches,  and  plenty  of  them  for  all — • 
into  the   cage,   than  there  was  a  general  scuffle.     Each  of 
the  six  snakes   seized    its   bird   and  entwined    it,   then   on 
the   part  of  the  reptiles  all  was  comparatively  still.      The 
rest  of  the  poor  little  birds,  fluttering  hither  and  thither, 
were,  however,  not  disregarded,  for  although  each  snake  was 
constricting  its  captive,  several  of  them  captured  another  bird 
by  pressing  it  beneath  them,  and  holding  it  down  with  a 
disengaged  part  of  themselves.    One  of  the  four-rayed  snakes 
felt  its  held-down  victim  struggling,  and  instantaneously  a 
second  coil  was  thrown  round  it.      Then  another  caught  a 
second  bird  in  its  mouth,  for  its  head  and  neck  were  not 
occupied  with  the  bird  already  held,  and  in  order  to  have 
coils  at  its  disposal,  slipped  down  its  first  captive,  or  rather 
passed   itself  onwards  to   constrict  the   second,   the  earlier 
coils   not   changing    in    form   in    the   slightest   degree,  any 
more  than  a  ring  passed  down  a  cord  would  change  its  form. 
The  next  moment  I  saw  one  of  those  two  hungry  ones  with 
three  birds  under  its  control.     It  had  already  begun  to  eat 
the  first,  a  second  was  coiled  about  eight  inches  behind,  and 

2  04  SNAKES. 

a  good  deal  of  the  posterior  portion  of  the  reptile  was  still 
disengaged  when  a  bird  passed  across  its  tail,  and  instantly 
that  was  captured.  All  this  was  done  by  a  sense  of  feeling 
only,  as  the  snakes  did  not  once  turn  their  heads.  Two  of 
these  *  four-rayed'  snakes  were  so  close  together,  so  rapid  in 
their  movements,  so  excited  and  eager  for  their  prey,  that 
which  of  them  first  began  his  bird,  and  which  one  caught  the 
third,  it  is  impossible  to  affirm  confidently. 

Whenever  either  of  them  was  in  the  same  position  for 
one  quiet  minute,  a  few  hurried  strokes  of  the  pencil  fixed 
them  in  my  notebook,  and  of  the  hasty  though  faithful 
sketches  thus  made,  I  present  three  to  the  reader  on  the 
opposite  page. 

April  1st,  1 88 1. — After  this  date  nothing  more  was  to  be 
seen  !  Henceforth  visitors  were  to  be  excluded,  and  the 
reptiles  were  to  be  fed  after  sunset. 

Now,  however  painfully  and  sympathetically  we  may 
regard  those  poor  little  birds  so  unceremoniously  seized, 
crushed,  and  devoured,  we  can  but  reverently,  and  almost 
with  aw^e,  admire  the  astonishing  facility  with  which  these 
limbless,  toolless  reptiles  provide  themselves  with  food. 
With  still  deeper  awe  and  reverence  we  shall  admire  when 
we  examine  their  anatomical  structure,  and  see  by  what 
marvellous  development  it  has  been  adapted  to  their 

We  feel  sadly  for  the  finches,  it  is  true  ;  because  finches 
are  often  our  pets,  and  are  sweet  songsters.  Were  a  toad 
or  a  rat  thus  treated,  we  should  care  less,  perhaps ;  because 
there  is  as  much  repugnance  towards  toads  and  'vermin,'  as 
towards  snakes. 












2o6  SNAKES. 

But  if  the  finches  did  not  become  the  prey  of  snakes, 
they  would  become  the  victims  of  bird-catchers  and  miUiners  ; 
and  if  they  escaped  these  wanton  spoilers,  they  would  fall 
victims  to  birds  of  prey,  as  much  larger  birds  fall  victims  to 
our  own  need  of  food. 

Reptiles  also  have  existence  and  requirements,  and  an 
organization  adapted  to  such  requirements.  This  should  be 
their  claim  upon  our  tolerance ;  and  if  they  do  not  win  our 
admiration,  we  cannot  deny  them  the  right  to  live,  the  right 
to  feed  according  to  their  instincts,  and  to  secure  their  natural 
food  in  their  own  way,  which — begging  the  reader  to  pardon 
this  feeble  moralizing — we  find  to  be  a  very  wonderful  way. 

Though  the  term  '  reptile '  is  applied  to  a  whole  tribe  of 
crawling  creatures,  whether  four-legged  or  limbless,  that  are 
covered  with  scales,  horny  plates,  or  a  skin  more  or  less 
hardened,  imbricated,  or  rugose  (viz.  crocodiles,  lizards, 
frogs,  toads,  serpents,  and  their  congeners),  snakes  are  more 
truly  reptiles,  being  limbless,  from  repo,  to  creep.  Hence 
serpents  (from  serpo,  to  creep,  and  its  derivatives  serpentine, 
serpentize,  etc.,  from  serpens,  winding)  have  been  separated 
from  the  rest.  The  true  serpents,  therefore,  are  those  with- 
out feet,  and  which  move  only  close  to  the  ground,  by  the 
sinuations  of  their  body. 

We  have  seen  that  the  constricting  snakes  use  this  body 
as  a  substitute  for  hands,  literally  managing  with  it ;  but 
though  they  are  externally  legless,  and  apodal  (without  feet), 
the  truth  is  that  few  creatures,  none  perhaps,  not  even 
millipedes,  are  more  liberally  furnished  with  legs  and  feet 
than  serpents.  One  curious  exception  to  general  rules  is, 
that  while  other  creatures  have  the  same  number  of  feet  as 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  207 

legs,  that  is,  one  foot  to  each  leg,  a  snake  has  only  one  foot 
to  each  pair  of  legs  ! 

Many  of  my  observant  readers  have  already  discovered 
for  themselves  where  and  what  these  numerous  lees  and 
feet  are.  In  the  early  days  of  my  ophidian  studies, 
which  then  consisted  chiefly  of  obser\^ations,  I  noticed  the 
action  of  limbs  beneath  the  skin  of  the  pythons  as  they 
moved  about,  and  more  particularly  when  they  were  climb- 
ing up  the  glass  in  front  of  their  cages,  and  as  in  the  case  of 
the  glottis,  I  thought  I  had  made  a  grand  discovery  ;  and 
so  I  had,  as  far  as  myself  was  concerned. 

Deductions  from  personal  observation,  which  in  the 
history  of  many  sciences  have  again  and  again  been  claimed 
as  original  discoveries  by  rival  thinkers  or  experimentalists, 
no  doubt  zuere  original  on  the  part  of  each. 

Probably,  also,  many  other  persons  have  noticed  this  leg- 
like action  of  the  ribs,  but  who,  not  being  specially  interested 
in  snakeology,  have  never  troubled  themselves  to  ascertain 
*  further  particulars,'  or  cared  whether  any  one  else  had 
observed  this  or  not.  But  it  is  a  very  evident  and  un- 
mistakeable  action,  and  one  quite  worth  studying  on  your 
next  visit  to  the  Reptilium. 

Books  on  ophiology  tell  us  that  Sir  Joseph  Banks  was 
the  first  to  observe  this  limb-like  action  of  the  ribs.  Sir 
Everard — then  Mr. — Home,  F.R.S,  and  the  most  dis- 
tinguished anatomist  of  his  time,  was,  however,  the  first  to 
publish  a  scientific  description  of  the  fact  ;  his  account  and 
the  illustrations  accompanying  it  having  been  subsequently 
adopted  by  most  ophiologists. 

In  vol.  cii.  of  the  PJalosopJiical  Traiisactiojis  of   18 12,  p. 

2o8  -'  SNAKES. 

163,  is  a  paper  which  was  read  before  the  Royal  Society  in 
February  of  that  year,  by  Everard  Home,  Esq.,  F.R.S.  It  is 
entitled,  *  Observations  to  show  that  the  Progressive  Motion 
of  Snakes  is  partly  performed  by  the  Ribs.' 

We  give  his  introductory  words,  not  only  because  the 
'  discovery '  was  a  great  event  in  the  history  of  ophiology, 
but  as  showing  that  to  see  and  examine  a  foreign  snake 
was  at  that  time  a  rare  if  not  a  novel  occurrence.  He  tells 
us  that  on  a  former  occasion  in  1804,  he  had  described  the 
anterior  ribs  of  a  cobra,  those  which  form  the  '  hood.'  At 
that  time  he  was  *  not  in  possession  of  the  bodies  of  snakes,' 
so  that  he  could  compare  their  structure,  but  had  since 
found  out  a  good  deal  more  about  their  anatomy,  and  then 
he  proceeds  :  'A  Coluber  of  unusual  size  lately  brought  to 
London  to  be  exhibited,  was  shown  to  Sir  Joseph  Banks. 
The  animal  was  lively  and  moved  along  the  carpet  briskly  ; 
while  it  was  doing  so,  Sir  Joseph  thought  he  saw  the  ribs 
come  forward  in  succession,  like  the  feet  of  a  caterpillar. 
This  remark  he  immediately  communicated  to  me,  and 
gave  me  an  opportunity  of  seeing  the  snake  and  making 
my  own  observations.  The  fact  was  already  established, 
and  I  could  feel  the  ribs  with  my  fingers  as  they  were 
brought  forward.  I  placed  my  hand  under  the  snake,  and 
the  ribs  were  felt  distinctly  upon  the  palm  as  the  animal 
passed  over  it.  This  becomes  the  more  interesting  discovery 
as  it  constitutes  a  new  species  of  progressive  motion,  and 
one  widely  different  from  those  already  known.' 

The  '  unusually  large  Coluber '  was  probably  a  python. 
Had  a  previous  opportunity  presented  itself  to  this  scientific 
and  thoughtful  observer.  Sir  Joseph  Banks  might  not  have 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  209 

been  the  one  to  carry  off  the  palm  in  this  discovery.  Home 
had  already  described  the  peculiarity  of  the  cobra's  anterior 
ribs  (chap,  xviii.),  and,  as  already  suggested,  it  is  scarcely 
possible  to  watch  one  of  those  larger  constrictors  zvitJwut 
perceiving  the  mode  of  progression.  We  shall  see  in  the 
course  of  this  book  that  snake  observers  have  arrived  at  the 
same  conclusions  on  several  points,  while  wholly  ignorant 
of  what  others  had  said  or  decided  regarding  the  same. 

In  the  previous  chapter  the  number  of  vertebrae  forming 
the  spinal  column  of  three  or  four  snakes  was  given,  but 
this  number  varies  greatly,  not  only  in  snakes  but  in  species. 
In  some  species  there  are  above  400  vertebrae  or  joints  in  a 
snake's  spine.     But  here  is  a  puzzle  that  baffles  the  student. 

*  Every  one  knows,'  says  Schlegel,  *  that  their  number  differs  ' 
(speaking  of  the  vertebrae),  *  not  only  according  to  the  species, 
but  also  in  individuals,  so  that  sometimes  we  find  in  serpents 
of  the  same  species  a  difference  of  thirty  or  forty  vertebrae 
more  or  less.'  1 

Taking  this  literally  according  to  the  text,  one  might 
expect  to  find  one  ring-snake  in  a  family  often  measuring  two 
feet,  while  his  brother  measured  two  yards,  and  a  third  four 
feet,  and  so  on,  as  if  each  had  a  different  number  of  vertebrae. 

*  The  same  species,'  that  is,  two  anacondas  or  two  cobras  ! 

*  A  mistranslation,'  one  naturally  decided,  and  proceeded  to 
consult  the  original.  But  no.  The  translator  had  faithfully 
and  unquestioningly  followed  the  original  French  ;  but  the 
fact  was  so  irreconcilable  that  I  sought  Dr.  Giinther's  kind 
assistance  in  comprehending  the  passage. 

^  Essay  on  the  Physiology  of  Serpents.  Translated  from  the  original  by  Thomas 
Stewart  Trail,  M.D.,  F.R.S.E.,  etc.     Edin.  1843. 

210  SNAKES. 

'  Evidently  an  oversight.  Manifestly  impossible,'  that 
learned  authority  at  once  decided.  (As  Schlegel  stands 
high  as  a  scientific  ophiologlst,  the  misprint  is  pointed  out 
for  the  benefit  of  future  students.) 

Thus  lengths,  as  to  the  number  of  vertebrcBy  vary  in  species 
of  the  same  genus,  but  not  in  'individuals  of  the  same 
species.'     And  this  alone  is  sufficiently  perplexing. 

For  example,  we  read  in  one  work  that  a  rattlesnake 
has  194  vertebrae,  and  in  another  that  'it,'  viz.  'a  rattle- 
snake,' has  207  vertebrae.  Both  equally  correct,  because 
two  distinct  species  are  described.  Again,  Dr.  Carpenter, 
in  his  Animal  Physiology  (edition  of  1872),  gives  a  table  of 
the  vertebrae  of  various  animals,  in  which  *  a  python  '  has 
422  joints,  while  Owen  gives  'a  python'  291  joints,  each 
learned  anatomist  having  examined  a  different  species.  By 
these  facts  we  comprehend  what  Schlegel  intended  to  say. 

The  little  constrictors  caught  their  finches  with  five  feet 
of  body  at  their  disposal.  An  anaconda,  with  five  yards 
of  body  to  work  with,  might  with  equal  ease  coil  three 

*  The  skeleton  of  a  snake  exhibits  the  greatest  possible 
simplicity  to  which  a  vertebrate  animal  can  be  reduced,' 
says  Roget.  It  is  '  merely  a  lengthened  spinal  column.' 
It  is  '  simple '  in  the  same  way  that  botanists  call  a  stem 
simple  when  it  has  no  branches,  or  bracts,  or  leaves,  to 
interrupt  its  uniformity.  For  this  reason,  having  no  limbs, 
and  therefore  none  of  those  bones  which  in  quadrupeds 
connect  the  limbs  to  the  trunk,  the  spine  is,  in  unscientific 
language,  alike  all  the  way  down  ;  '  iin  corps  tout  en  tronc! 
And  because  those  two  first  joints  of  the  spine  which  have 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  211 

no  ribs  attached  to  them  are  in  form  precisely  Hke  the  other 
joints,  physiologists  tell  us  that  a  snake  has  '  no  neck.'  By 
way  of  simplifying  matters  we  just  now  called  those  two 
joints  an  invariable  neck.  But  in  the  way  of  cervical  or 
neck  vertebrae,  however,  we  must  bear  in  mind  that  a  true 
anatomical  neck,  in  the  eyes  of  science,  a  snake  has  not. 
Some  of  the  four-legged  reptiles  have  a  true  neck,  that  is, 
they  have  cervical  vertebrae  which  differ  from  dorsal,  lumbar, 
etc.  vertebrae,  as  we  ourselves  and  mammals  in  general  have  ; 
because  four-legged  reptiles  have  a  breast-bone  and  limbs 
to  support,  and  their  neck  varies  in  length.  For  example, 
a  tortoise  has  nine  cervical  or  neck  joints,  a  monitor  lizard 
six,  and  a  salamander  only  one. 

But  so  also  do  the  necks  of  mammals  vary  very  greatly  in 
length,  while  all,  without  exception,  are  formed  of  seven  joints, 
only  seven  vei'tebrce ;  a  man,  a  whale,  a  giraffe,  and  a  mouse 
possess  each  seven  cervical  vertebrae,  different  in  form  from 
the  rest  of  the  joints  of  the  spinal  column.  We  might  say  that 
in  appearance  a  whale  has  no  neck,  but  its  seven  neck  joints 
are  flat  and  close  as  seven  cards  or  seven  pennies,  while 
those  of  the  giraffe  are  extraordinarily  prolonged  ;  and  in 
ourselves — -well,  of  course,  the  reader  will  admit  the  perfec- 
tion of  symmetry  in  our  own  necks,  and  the  seven  joints, 
therefore,  are  precisely  of  the  proper  size. 

While  the  spine  of  a  snake  is  'simple'  in  respect  of  its 
joints  being  all  formed  on  the  same  plan,  it  is  the  reverse 
of  simple  in  its  wonderfully  complex  structure.  Professor 
Huxley,  in  his  delightful  lecture,  said  that  'the  most  beauti- 
ful piece  of  anatomy  he  knew  was  the  vertebra  of  a  snake.' 
Professor  Owen  thus  anatomically  describes  it :  '  The  verte- 



brae  of  serpents  articulate  with  each  other  by  eight  joints, 
in  addition  to  those  of  the  cup  and  ball  on  the  centrum  ; 
and  interlock  by  parts  reciprocally  receiving  and  entering 
one  another,  like  the  joints  called  tenon  and  mortice  in 
carpentry'  {Anatomy  of  the  Vertebrates,  p.  54). 

Front  and  back  view  of  a  vertebra. 

Bearing  in  mind  that  each  of  these  highly  complicated 
joints  supports  a  pair  of  moveable  ribs,  and  that  the  ends 
of  these  ribs  are  connected  by  muscles  with  the  large  stiff 
scutes  or  scales  crossing  the  under  surface  of  the  body  (see 
illustrations,  p.  193),  which  move  with  the  ribs,  one  foot- 
like scale  to  each  pair,  we  comprehend  how  snakes  exceed 
millipedes  in  the  number  of  their  limbs,  if  not  true  legs, 
and  how  they  excel  the  insect  also  in  variety  of  movement. 
Those  'ball  and  socket'  joints  admit  of  free  lateral  flexion, 
and  every  variety  of  curvature  — '  the  utmost  pliancy  of 
motion^  to  repeat  the  words  of  Rymer  Jones ;  and  also  of 
that  surprisingly  independent  motion  which  enables  the 
constrictors  to  surpass  even  the  Bimana  (except  practised 
experts)  in  doing  several  things  at  once. 

Thoughtful  persons  who  can  contemplate  this  wondrous 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  213 

organization  with  due  reverence,  and  witness  it  in  activity — 
as  we  admiringly  observe  the  works  of  a  watch  in  motion 
— will  forget  to  censure  those  who  supply  food  to  this  piece 
of  animated  mechanism,  and  even  pardon  a  hungry  little 
snake  for  so  expertly  securing  three  birds  at  once. 

Think  of  300  back-bones  and  300  pairs  of  legs,  all  requiring 
wholesome  exercise.  Some  snakes  have  300  pairs  of  ribs — 
each  pair  capable  of  independent  motion,  and  articulated  with 
that  complex  spine  ;  and  each  pair  moving  together,  and 
carrying  along  with  them  a  foot  in  the  shape  of  a  broad 
ventral  scale.  '  This  scutum  by  its  posterior  edge  lays  hold 
of  the  ground,'  says  Sir  Everard  Home,  'and  becomes  a 
fixed  point  whence  to  set  out  anew.' 

The  hold  which  the  ventral  scales  have  of  the  ground 
obviously  renders  it  easier  for  the  reptiles  to  pass  over  a 
rough  than  a  smooth  surface ;  what  are  obstacles  to  other 
creatures  are  facilities  to  them.  But  they  appear  to  be 
never  at  a  loss.  On  a  boarded  room,  or  even  a  marble 
floor,  they  will  manage  progression  of  some  sort, — many  by 
the  pressure  of  the  tail  to  push  themselves  forward,  and 
others  with  an  action  that  can  be  compared  only  with 
swimming.  With  the  same  rapid,  undulating  motion  as 
swimming,  the  active  snakes  skim  through  the  grass,  or 
over  soft  herbage,  on  which  they  seem  to  make  no  impres- 
sion. Their  swift  sinuations  are  almost  invisible  to  the 
eye.  You  only  know  that  a  snake  ivas  there,  and  now  has 
vanished.  The  '  Rat '  snake  of  Ceylon  {Ptyas  mucosus)  (see 
frontispiece)  and  the  '  Pilot '  snakes  of  America  are  among 
the  best  known  of  these  swift-flitting  or  gliding  creatures. 
Rats  are  fleet  little  quadrupeds,  but   their  enemies,  the 

-2  14  SNAKES. 

Rat  snakes  of  India,  are  more  than  their  match.  Sir  Emerson 
Tennant,  in  his  History  of  Ceylon,  describes  an  encounter  with 
one.  Ptyas  mucostis  caught  a  rat,  and  both  captor  and  cap- 
tive were  promptly  covered  with  a  glass  shade  to  be  watched. 
With  an  instinct  to  escape  stronger  than  hunger,  Ptyas 
relinquished  his  hold,  and  manifested  uneasiness.  Then 
the  glass  shade  was  raised  a  trifle,  and  instantly  away  ran 
the  rat ;  but  the  snake  was  after  it  like  a  flash,  caught  it,  and 
glided  away  swiftly,  with  head  erect  and  the  rat  in  its  mouth. 

At  one  of  the  Davis  lectures  at  the  Zoological  Gardens, 
a  fine  Rat  snake  in  the  Society's  collection  was  exhibited, 
and  was  permitted  to  be  handled  by  a  favoured  few.  To 
hold  it  still  was  not  possible,  for  the  creature  glided  through 
the  hand,  and  entwined  itself  about  one  as  if  a  dozen 
snakes  had  you  in  possession.  It  was  very  tame,  and 
accustomed  to  be  handled  by  the  keeper,  whose  especial 
pet  it  was  ;  otherwise  Ptyas  is  a  powerful  snake,  and  quite 
capable  of  strangling  you  should  it  take  a  fancy  to  constrict 
your  neck.  On  another  occasion  this  same  snake  constricted 
my  arm  sufficiently  to  make  my  fingers  swell ;  but  that  was 
not  so  much  in  anger  as  for  safety,  because  it  did  not  like  to 
be  fettered  in  its  movements,  or  to  be  somewhat  unceremoni- 
ously examined.  A  younger  and  less  tame  specimen  tried  to 
bite  me,  and  squeezed  my  fingers  blue  by  constricting  them. 

There  is  no  circumventing  these  *  lithe  and  elegant  beings.' 
They  wull  get  into  your  pocket,  or  up  your  sleeve  ;  and  w^hile 
you  think  you  have  the  head  safely  in  your  hand,  the 
whole  twelve  feet  of  snake  will  have  glided  through,  and 
be  making  its  way  to  the  book  shelves,  or  where  you  least 
expect  to  see  it. 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  215 

When  frequently  handling  the  young-  constrictors,  one  has 
been  able  io  feci  diS  well  as  to  observe  the  action  of  the  ribs. 
As  they  pass  through  the  hand,  you  feel  them  expanded, 
so  as  to  present  a  flatter  under  surface.  In  Ptyas  the  back 
is  remarkably  keeled  when  crawling,  a  section  of  his  body 
presenting  the  form  of  the  middle  diagram  given  below. 

Schlegel  describes  the  forms  which  the  bodies  of  various 
snakes  assume  in  swimming,  climbing,  clinging,  etc.  Some- 
times they  are  laterally  compressed,  at  others  flattened. 
The  three  figures  above  are  on  a  much  reduced  scale,  but 
give  an  idea  of  the  sections  of  three  different  snakes, 
though  each  snake  is  capable  of  several  such  changes  of 
form.  When  snakes  climb  against  the  glass  of  their 
cages,  you  may  easily  discern  the  flattening  of  their 
bodies.  In  this  action  there  seems  to  be  a  compressing 
power,  any  hold  of  the  scutae  against  a  polished  plane 
being,  of  course,  impossible  ;  yet  without  holding  they  seem 
to  cling  ;  and  the  ribs  advance  in  wave-like  intervals  just 
the  same,  with  an  intermediate  space  at  rest  until  in  turn 
the  wave  is  there  and  passes  on,  while  from  an  anterior 
portion  another  wave  approaches,  and  so  on.  Yet  the  coin- 
pressure  strikes  one  forcibly.  There  is  also  the  evident 
support  of  the  tail  in  a  large  python  thus  crawling  to  the 
very  top  of  his  cage. 

Mr.   Gosse   observed   the  dilatation  and  flatteninc:  of  the 

2 1 6  SNAKES. 

body  in  the  climbing  snakes,  and  that  they  had  no  more 
difficulty  in  gliding  up  a  tree  or  a  wall  in  a  straight  line  than 
on  the  ground.  In  the  Anecdotes  of  Serpents^  revised  for  the 
Messrs.  W.  &  R.  Chambers,  of  Edinburgh,  in  1875,  from 
the  tract  by  the  late  John  Keast  Lord,  I  also  recorded 
my  observations  on  this  peculiarity. 

Some  young  Jamaica  boas  crawled  to  the  top  of  their 
cage  as  soon  as  they  were  born.  I  saw  them  the  same  day  ; 
held  them,  as  well  as  it  was  possible  to  hold  threads  of 
quicksilver ;  felt  them,  too,  for  the  exceedingly  juvenile 
constrictors  tied  up  my  fingers  cleverly.  So  did  some 
young  boa  constrictors,  born  alive  at  the  Gardens,  June  30, 
1877.  They  were  from  fifteen  to  twenty  inches  in  length, 
and  had  teeth  sufficiently  developed  to  draw  blood  from 
Holland's  hand,  showing  fight  and  ingratitude  at  the  same 
time.  They  were  exceedingly  active,  and  fed  on  young  mice, 
which  they  constricted  instinctively.  One  of  them,  known  as 
*  Totsey,'  subsequently  hwig  for  her  portrait,  as  on  p.  201. 

In  vol.  XX.  of  Nature,  p.  528,  is  a  very  clever  paper  on 
the  progression  of  snakes,  by  H.  F.  Hutchinson,  who  has 
evidently  observed  them  closely.  He  arrives  at  the  con- 
clusion that  they  have  three  different  modes,  viz.  'on  smooth 
plane  surfaces  by  means  of  their  rib-legs ; '  .  .  .  '  through 
high  grass  by  rapid,  almost  invisible,  sinuous  onward  move- 
ment, like  swimming  ; '  in  climbing  straight  walls  or  ascend- 
ing smooth  surfaces  by  creating  a  vacuum  with  the  ventral 
scales.  He  reminds  us  that  cobras,  kraits,  the  rat  snake, 
and  other  slender  and  active  kinds  are  constantly  found 
on  house  roofs,  walls,  straight  smooth  trees,  etc.,  and  asks 
how  they  got   there.      He  has  seen  the  'abdominal  scales 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  217 

creating  a  vacuum  like  the  pedal  scales  of  house  lizards.' 
He  put  some  active  little  snakes  on  the  ground,  where  there 
was  no  hold  for  the  scutae,  and  they  '  flew  about  in  all 
directions.'  He  saw  that  they  moved  on  by  these  quick, 
sinuous  curves — 'rapid  wriggles.' 

In  company  with  my  esteemed  friend,  Mr.  Robert 
Chambers  of  Edinburgh,  we  made  similar  experiments  by 
placing  some  of  the  smooth-scaled,  active  snakes  on  a 
boarded  floor.  Being  extremely  wild,  they  displayed  their 
anger  and  skill  to  perfection,  and  literally  swam  along, 
scarcely  touching  the  floor,  and  so  swiftly  that  we  had 
difficulty  in  pursuing  and  securing  them  again.  Some  very 
young  Tropidojioti  vjh.Qn  disturbed  flew  or  'swam'  about  their 
cage  in  the  same  manner.  We  also  saw  pythons  climb  up  a 
window-frame,  and  a  corner  of  the  room  where  no  visible  hold 
could  be  obtained  ;  and  after  the  example  of  Sir  Everard 
Home,  we  allowed  the  reptiles  to  crawl  over  our  hands, 
when  we  could  feel  the  expansion  and  flattening  of  the 
body  by  the  spreading  of  the  ribs..  I  incline  to  agree,  there- 
fore, with  the  writer  in  Nature^  that  there  is  a  sort  of 
vacuum  created  by  the  ventral  scales.  Dr.  Stradling 
observed  that  on  occasions  of  retreat,  some  snakes  move  in 
such  rapid  and  ever-varying  sinuations  as  to  baffle  you 
completely  when  you  attempt  to  lay  hold  of  them  ;  the  part 
you  thought  to  grasp  is  gone.^  Such  are  the  movements  of 
PituopJiis  and  oi  Echis  (p.  151). 

At  the  risk  of  being  tedious,  a  few  more  words  must  be 
added  on   this  subject   of  progression,  because  we  so  con- 

^  '  On  the  Movements  of  Snakes  in  Flight,'  by  Dr.  Arthur  Stradling,  C.M.Z.S., 
Nature,  Feb.  18S2. 

21 8  SNAKES. 

stantly  see  it  asserted  that  snakes  *  move  with  difficulty 
over  smooth  surfaces.'  Their  actions  have  not  excited 
sufficient  attention  and  study.  Have  you  ever  watched 
them  moving  about  in  their  bath  at  the  Zoological  Gardens .'' 
The  motions  of  a  python  once  particularly  struck  me.  The 
earthenware  pan  was  smooth  polished  ware,  and  with  enough 
water  in  it  to  render  it  smoother,  if  that  be  possible.  The 
reptile  was  not  swimming,  for  the  thicker  part  of  its  body 
was  not  even  wholly  submersed.  The  pan  was  too  shallow 
for  that,  and  too  small  to  permit  of  any  portion  of  the  python 
being  fully  extended.  It  moved  in  ever-varying  coils  and 
curves,  yet  with  the  greatest  ease,  its  head  slightly  raised, 
so  that  the  nostrils  and  mouth  were  out  of  water.  It 
seemed  to  be  enjoying  its  bath,  as  it  actively  glided,  turned, 
and  curved  in  that  wonderful  fashion  which  Ruskin  described 
as  '  a  bit  one  way,  a  bit  another,  and  some  of  him  not  at  all.' 
There  could  be  no  hold  for  the  scutae  in  this  case,  nor  could 
I  detect  any  action  of  the  ribs  as  in  crawling  over  a  less 
smooth  surface.  The  creature  seemed  to  move  by  its  easy 
sinuations,  and  with  no  more  effort  than  you  see  in  the 
fish  at  an  aquarium.  Perfectly  incomprehensible  Is  this  lax 
and  leisurely  movement  in  shallow  water.  Even  the  inert 
little  slow-worm  astonishes  us  by  its  physical  achievements, 
which  will  be  duly  described  in  its  especial  chapter. 

But  among  the  most  characteristically  active  are  the  small 
and  slender  tree  snakes,  the  DryadidcB  and  DcndropJiidce, 
mostly  of  a  brilliant  green.  These  and  the  Whip  snakes  are 
exceedingly  long  and  slender,  the  tails  of  many  of  them 
very  gradually  diminishing  to  a  fine  and  attenuated  point. 
Some  of  them  are  closely  allied  to  the  lizards,  and  skim  and 

OPHIDIAN  A  CR  OB  A  TS.  219 

dash  through  the  foliage  with  a  scarcely  perceptible  weight. 
These  are  the  true  acrobats,  full  of  gracile  ease  and  activity. 
Many  are  over  four  feet  in  length,  and  not  much  thicker  than 
a  pencil. 

They  are  found  in  the  hot  countries  of  both  hemispheres. 
The  Siamese  call  some  of  them  'sunbeams,'  from  their 
combination  of  grace  and  splendour,  and  in  Brazil  some 
have  the  brilliant  tints  of  the  humming-birds.  These  little 
creatures  in  your  hand  feel  like  soft,  fine,  satin  cords  endowed 
with  life. 

Dr.  Wucherer,  writing  from  Brazil,  enthusiastically  declared 
that  he  was  always  delighted  to  find  one  of  them  in  his  garden. 
He  discovered  them  coiled  in  a  bird's  nest,  their  body  of  two 
feet  long  occupying  a  space  no  larger  than  the  hollow  of  your 
hand.  'In  an  instant  they  dart  upwards  between  the  branches 
and  over  the  leaves,  which  scarcely  bend  beneath  their  weight. 
A  moment  more,  and  you  have  lost  them.'  ^ 

Krefft,  of  Australia,  had  some  of  the  active  snakes,  which 
were  confined  in  an  empty  room,  but  one  day  could  not  be 
found.  At  last  they  were  discovered  upon  the  moulding  of  a 
door,  nine  feet  from  the  floor !  They  must  have  climbed  up 
the  smooth  wood-work  in  their  own  mysterious  fashion. 

Ere  concluding  this  chapter,  one  slight  exception  to  the 
extremely  'simple'  spinal  column  must  be  named.  This 
is  that  certain  families,  more  nearly  allied  to  the  lizards, 
or  most  far  removed  from  the  vipers,  have  rudiments  of 
pelvic  bones,  or  those  which  in  bipeds  connect  the  legs  with 
the  trunk.  In  a  few  families  there  is  even  a  pair  of  these 
rudiments  externally,  though  only  in  the  form  of  a  spur  or 

^  Letter  to  Sir  Emerson  Tennant. 

2  20  SNAKES. 

claw,  as  seen  in  the  boa  constrictor,  the  pythons,  and  some 
of  the  blind-worms,  and  usually  more  developed  in  the  male. 
There  is,  however,  the  true  skeleton  of  a  claw  beneath  the 
skin,  composed  of  several  bones,  and  presenting  somewhat 
the  form  of  a  bird's  claw,  hinting  at  the  common  ancestry 
between  snakes  and  lizards.  These  spurs,  though  mere 
vestiges  of  limbs,  must  still  be  of  some  use  to  the  large 
constrictors  when  climbing  trees  and  hanging  from  the 
branches.  They  are  found  in  the  boa,  python,  eryx,  and 
tortrix,  four  groups  which  approach  the  lizard  characteristics; 
also  in  Boa  aqiiatica,  the  anaconda. 







THE  frequent  allusion  to  water  snakes  In  the  preceding 
chapters  seems  to  render  this  a  suitable  place  to 
describe  them  more  In  detail ;  and  among  them  are  of 
course  the  sea  snakes,  and  '  The  Great  Sea  Serpent '  must 
not  be  omitted. 

In  many  books  on  natural  history,  particularly  If  her- 
petology  occupy  any  space,  we  find  the  subject  wound  up 
with  a  chapter  on  'The  Sea  Serpent,'  forming  a  sort  of 
apologetic  little  addendum,  as  If  the  creature  of  question- 
able existence  must  claim  no  space  in  the  heart  of  the 
volume,  yet  is  not  quite  so  unimportant  as  to  be  omitted 

On  the  part  of  some  other  authors,  a  total  and  summary 
dismissal  of  the  '  monster '  is  apt  to  exclude  with  it  any 
reference  to  the  smaller  sea  snakes,  whose  actual  existence 
is  therefore  a  fact  less  knov/n  than  It  should  be ;  and  many 
persons,  seeing  the  doubt  cast  upon  the  celebrated  Individual 
whose  reputed  reappearance  on  the  prorogation  of  Parliament 


22  2  SNAKES. 

has  become  an  annual  joke,  conclude  that  all  sea  snakes  are 
similarly  mythical. 

Admitting  it  to  be  a  dubious  creature,  with  neither  name 
nor  ancestry  in  ophidian  annals,  I  must  not  give  it  precedence 
of  the  recognised  water  snakes  ;  but  it  shall  figure  in  the 
heart  of  my  book  notwithstanding. 

^ Fresh-zvater  snakes'  form  the  fourth,  and  ^  Sea  snakes' 
the  fifth  of  the  five  groups  into  which  Dr.  Giinther  has 
separated  the  ophidian  families  ;  but  the  gradations  between 
the  land  and  the  fresh-water  species,  and  between  the  latter 
and  the  salt-water  snakes  or  the  true  HydropJiidce^  are,  like 
all  other  herpetological  features,  extremely  close.  There 
are  water-loving  land  snakes  and  land-frequenting  water 
snakes,  that  is,  those  which  are  equally  at  home  in  both. 
In  the  true  water  species,  however,  we  find  modifications  of 
ordinary  rules  which  show  them  to  be  peculiarly  protected 
and  adapted  for  an  aquatic  existence. 

One  notable  characteristic  in  all,  both  salt-water  and  fresh, 
is  the  position  of  the  nostrils  on  the  top  of  the  snout,  and  in 
many  these  are  protected  by  a  valve  which  closes  at  will. 
As  air-breathing  animals  they  must  come  to  the  surface,  but 
the  timid,  stealthy  ophidian  instinct  which  seeks  to  hide 
from  observation  can  be  indulged  even  in  the  water,  with 
the  nostrils  so  situated  that  only  a  very  small  surface  of  the 
head  need  be  exposed.  Could  we  examine  the  interior  of 
the  mouth  we  should  doubtless  find  some  slight  variation  in 
the  position  of  the  glottis  also.  In  a  foregoing  chapter  we 
saw  that  the  trachea  opens  exactly  opposite  to  and  close 
behind  what  Dumeril  calls  the  'arriere-narines  ;'  'leur  glotte 
qui  est  a  deux  levres  et  qui  represente  un  larynx  tres  simple. 


s'ouvre  dans  la  bouche  derriere  le  fourreau  de  la  langue  .  .  . 
elle  s'eleve  pour  se  presenter  dilatee  sous  les  arriere- 
narines.'  1  The  glottis  of  water  snakes  must  have  a  still  more 
upward  direction  to  present  itself  to  those  air  passages. 
Perhaps  water  snakes  do  not  require  to  yawn  so  frequently 
as  is  the  habit  of  their  terrestrial  relatives  ;  and  if  they  do, 
it  must  be  a  rare  privilege  to  be  able  to  inspect  the  process, 
as  one  can  so  frequently  do  with  the  pythons  and  vipers  at 
home.  Our  authorities  do  not  give  us  much  information 
on  this  point.^ 

Their  moderately  long  tapering  tail  is  used  as  a  propelling 
power.  Exteriorly,  too,  water  snakes  have  smooth  non-imbri- 
cated scales,  though  exceptions  exist  in  those  species  which 
frequent  both  land  and  water,  as  the  Ti'opidonoti,  a  large 
family  of  which  our  common  English  ring  snake  is  a  member, 
and  which,  as  their  name  denotes,  have  all  keeled  scales,  from 
rpomg,  Tpo'rridoc,  a  kcel.  These,  also,  can  elevate  their  ribs,  and  so 
flatten  the  body  in  the  water,  another  assistant  in  swimming. 

A  marked  exception  to  the  sm.ooth-scaled,  water-loving 
snakes  is  the  African  viper,  known  as  the  '  River  Jack  ' 
from  its  partiality  to  water.  Vipcra  rJiinosccros,  from  the 
spinous  scales  which  have  the  appearance  of  horns  on  its 
nose,  is  allied  to  those  described  in  the  i8th  chapter.    Though 

1  Dumeril  et  Bibron,  Erpefohs^ie  generak,  tome  i.  p.  179. 

'  Since  this  has  been  in  type,  there  has  been  brought  to  the  Gardens  an  Indian 
'  River  snake  '  ( Tropidonotiis  quincimciatits),  affording  me  an  opportunity  to 
observe  that  there  is  a  notable  modification  of  the  glottis,  as  also  of  the  nostrils. 
Not  a  true  water  snake,  but  one  of  the  intermediate  families,  so  do  we  find  the 
nostrils  somewhat  higher  than  those  of  land  snakes,  while  yet  not  quite  on  the 
top  of  the  snout  as  in  sea  snakes  ;  the  glottis  has  a  corresponding  upward  direc- 
tion to  meet  them,  and  is  a  more  elongated,  longitudinal  slit  than  those  furnished 
with  \.\\Q  petite  languette. — June  1S82. 

2  24  SNAKES. 

not  strictly  a  water  snake,  it  much  frequents  it,  and  glides 
through  it  with  ease,  the  more  remarkable  because,  in  com- 
mon with  those  other  *  horned  vipers '  of  Africa,  it  has  a 
short,  insignificant  little  tail,  which  can  be  of  little  use  as  a 
propelUng  power.  Altogether,  it  is  one  of  the  ugliest  and 
most  ferocious-looking  of  the  whole  serpent  tribe,  with  a 
thick,  heavy  body,  a  dingy,  rough  exterior,  and  strongly- 
carinated  scales.  Excepting  in  colour,  and  a  more  horizontal 
inclination  of  its  horns,  it  is  not  unlike  the  V.  nasicornis  of 
the  coloured  illustration,  chap,  xviii. 

While  all  the  Hoinalopsidce  or  true  fresh-water  snakes  are 
innocent,  there  are  many  other  venomous  kinds  known  as 
*  water  serpents,'  both  in  Africa  and  America.  For  example, 
the  *  water  viper,'  or  '  water  moccasin,'  Cenchris  piscivorus, 
whose  aquatic  and  fish-eating  propensities  were  described  in 
the  chapter  on  Tails.  This  '  thorn-tail '  viper  has  not,  how- 
ever, the  nostrils  of  the  true  fresh-water  snakes  or  Hoina- 
lopsidcB.  In  Australia  also  are  several  poisonous  species, 
known  vernacularly  as  '  water  snakes  ; '  but  strictly  speaking, 
and  on  the  authority  of  Giinther,  the  true  Homalopsidce  are 
all  non-venomous. 

To  describe  these  more  minutely  from  Giinther,  Krefft, 
and  Dr.  E.  Nicholson,  '  they  have  a  body  moderately  cylin- 
drical, a  tail  somewhat  compressed  at  the  root,  and  more  or 
less  prehensile.  Many  of  them  have  a  distinctly  prehensile 
tail,  by  which  they  hold  on  to  projecting  objects  ; '  and  in 
times  of  storms  and  strong  currents  we  can  imagine  the 
importance  of  this  security  to  them.  Their  eyes,  though 
prominent,  are  small,  and  thus  less  exposed  to  injury  ;  and 
the  nostrils,  as  already  stated,  are  on  the  upper  surface  of 


the  head,  and  provided  with  a  valvule.  Another  peculiarity 
is  that  the  last  or  back  tooth  of  the  maxillary  bone  is  a 
grooved  fang,  a  transitional  tooth  between  an  ordinary  one 
and  a  fang ;  but  there  is  no  evidence  of  any  poisonous 
saliva  connected  with  it.  Indeed,  as  we  may  repeat.  Dr. 
Giinther  distinctly  affirms  that  all  the  fresh-water  snakes  are 
harmless  and  tJioroiigJdy  aquatic,  though  a  few  are  occasion- 
ally found  on  the  beach.  They  inhabit  rivers  and  estuaries, 
feeding  on  fish,  and  rarely  coming  to  land  ;  some  of  them 
frequent  brackish  waters,  and  even  enter  the  sea.  These 
latter  in  their  organization  approach  the  true  marine  ser- 
pents. One  Indian  example,  Hydriniis,  is  semi-pelagic. 
They  are  all  viviparous,  producing  their  young  in  the  water  ; 
and  they  belong  to  the  tropical  or  semi-tropical  regions. 
In  Australia  they  are  found  only  in  the  far  north  ;  but  in 
America  some  so-called  *  water  snakes,'  which  spend  most 
of  their  time  in  the  water,  frequent  rivers  which  are  frozen 
over  in  winter,  during  which  season  they  probably  undergo 
hibernation  in  holes  near  the  banks. 

Several  of  the  older  naturalists  describe  'water  snakes'  in 
words  which  leave  us  no  doubt  as  to  the  mivibers,  though 
of  their  name  we  cannot  be  so  certain.  Carver  in  1796 
mentioned  some  small  islands  near  the  western  end  of  Lake 
Erie,  so  infested  with  snakes  that  it  was  dangerous  to  land 
upon  them.  It  is  impossible  that  any  place  can  produce 
a  greater  number  of  all  kinds  of  snakes,  particularly  the 
*  water  snake,'  than  this.  He  says :  *  The  lake  is  covered 
near  the  banks  of  the  islands  with  the  large  pond  lily,  the 
leaves  of  which  lie  on  the  surface  of  the  water  so  thick  as  to 

cover  it  entirely  for  many  acres  together,  and   on  each  of 


226  SNAKES. 

these  lay  wreaths  of  water  snakes,  amounthig  to  myriads, 
basking  in.  the  sun.'  A  sight  of  the  last  century  this.  I 
have  passed  over  that  part  of  Lake  Erie  and  through  the 
Detroit  river,  and  remember  the  islands  and  the  water- 
lilies  and  other  attractive  objects,  but  'wreaths  of  water 
snakes  '  were  not  of  these. 

Lawson,  too,  can  assure  us  of  their  habitat,  but  not  their 
name,  and  his  account  is  of  worth  chiefly  to  verify  their 
swarming  numbers.  It  is  possible  that  some  of  those 
which  he  describes  are  now  extinct  or  very  rare.  *  Of  water 
Snakes  there  are  four  sorts.  The  first  is  of  the  Horn  Snake's 
Colour,  though  less.'      (This   might  be    the   young    of  the 

*  water     moccasin,'    CencJiris^     or     Trigonoceph.   piscivonts.) 

*  The  next  is  a  very  long  Snake,  differing  in  Colour,  and  will 
make  nothing  to  swim  over  a  River  a  League  wide.  They 
hang  upon  Birches  and  other  Trees  by  the  Water  Side.  I  had 
the  Fortune  once  to  have  one  of  them  leap  into  my  Boat  as  I 
was  going  up  a  narrow  River.  The  Boat  was  full  of  Mats, 
which  I  was  glad  to  take  out  and  so  get  rid  of  him.  They 
are  reckoned  poisonous.  A  third  is  much  of  an  English 
Adder  Colour,  but  always  frequents  the  Salts,  and  lies  under 
the  drift  Seaweed,  where  they  are  in  Abundance,  and  are 
accounted  mischievous  when  they  bite.  The  last  is  of  a 
sooty,  black  Colour,  and  frequents  Ponds  and  Ditches. 
What  his  Qualities  are,  I  cannot  tell.' 

Catesby   is    responsible    for    having   called    Tropidouotus 

fasciattis   'the    brown   water   viper,'   a    stumbling-block    to 

many  ever  since,  much   confusion   existing  between  this  and 

the    true    '  water    viper,'    the    dangerous    moccasin    snake. 

Occasionally  they   are   very   dark.     They  are  rather  thick 


and  viperish  -  looking  as  well,  but  are  perfectly  harm- 

This  is   the  snake  to  which   almost  this   book   owes   its 
origin,   the    specimens    at   the    Zoological    Gardens    called 

*  Moccasins '  tripping  me  up  at  the  outset,  as  my  preface 
sets  forth.  Holbrooke  describes  it  as  spending  most  of  its 
time  in  the  water,  or  about  pond  and  river  banks.  It  swims 
rapidly,  and  hundreds  may  be  seen  darting  in  all  directions 
through  the  water.  They  are  very  common  in  the  United 
States,  and  might  have  formed  the  *  wreathed  myriads  '  on 
Lake  Erie  formerly.  In  summer  they  roost  on  the  lower 
branches  of  trees,  overhanging  the  water,  like  TrigonocepJialus 
piscivorus,  the  true  'water  moccasin,'  or  'cotton  mouth.' 
At  the  time  of  writing  there  are  examples  of  both  these  at 
the  Gardens,  the  harmless  '  moccasin,'  a  rather  handsome 
snake,  and  the  venomous  one  (not  there  recognised  as  the 
well-known  moccasin  of  the  United  States),  so  nearly  black 
that  we  can  account  for  its  being  occasionally  called  the 
'  black  water  viper.' 

It  is  probably    Tropidonotus  which   Parker   Gilmore  des- 
cribes as  'water  vipers."     At  Vincennes  in  Indiana,  he  says, 

*  On  the  side  where  some  alder  bushes  grow  in  the  water, 
I  have  seen,  on  a  very  warm  and  bright  day,  such  numbers 
of  water  vipers  twined  round  the  limbs  and  trunks  which 
margin  the  pond,  that  it  would  be  almost  impossible  to 
wade  a  yard  without  being  within  reach  of  one  of  them. 
They  certainly  have  all  the  appearance  of  being  venomous  ; 
the  inhabitants  say,  however,  they  are  harmless.  They  feed 
principally  on  fish,  frogs,  and  small  birds.' 

^  Prairie  Farms  and  Prairie  Folks,  vol.  ii.  pp.  83,  84. 

2  28  SNAKES. 

Of  American  water  snakes,  the  anaconda  deserves  special 

mention.     Of  it  Seba  says,  '  Ce  serpent  habite  plus  les  eaux 

que  les  rochers  ; '  and  in  its  having  the  nostrils  situated  on 

the  top  of  the  head,  and  in  possessing  some  other  features 

in  common  with  the  Hovialopsidce,  we  are  justified  in  calling 

it  a  water  serpent,  notwithstanding  it  is  a  true  constrictor. 

'Mother  of  waters,'  the  aborigines  of  South  America  call 

it.     It  is  the  Boa  aquatica  of  Neuwied,  and  Etinectes  nmrimis 

of  Wagler,  the  latter  name  being  the  one  most  frequently 

used  by  modern  herpetologists.     Dumeril  adopts  it,  VEimect 

viurifi,  giving  the  origin  of   the  generic  name,  bon  nageiu% 

from  the  Greek  sO,  bien,fort,  and  ^/jjir-zj?,  nageiir — qui  nage  bien. 

As  to  the  meaning  of  the  specific  name  inmmus,  there  can 

be  but  little  doubt,  though  some  have  attributed  it  to  its 

mouse-coloured  skin  or  spots.     Le  viangciir  de  rats,  Bonnat 

called  it ;  le  rativoro,  Lacepede.     Seba,  who  was  one  of  the 

first  to   describe   it,   says,  '  II    font  guerre   aux   rats ; '    and 

Bonnat,  on  his  authority,  says,  '  II  se  nourrit   d'une  espece 

de    rats.'      '  Serpent    d'Amerique   a  moucheteur  de  tortue,' 

Seba  also  describes  it,  and  with  'jolies  ecailles  magnifique- 

ment  madrees  de  grandes  taches,  semblable  de  celles  des 

tortues ;    taches    semees    sans    ordres,    grands,    petits,'    etc. 

Miirinus,  therefore,  clearly  refers  to  its  food,  not  its  colour. 

Dumeril's  description  is  of  more  scientific  exactness  :  *  Pas 
de  fossettes  aux  levres.  On  pent  aisement  reconnaitre  les 
Eunectes  seul  entre  les  boa,  ils  ont  les  narines  percees  a  la 
face  supericure  du  bout  du  museau  et  directement  tournees 
vers  le  ciel'  These,  being  extremely  small,  and  with  a 
power  to  close  hermetically,  declare  its  aquatic  habits.  Its 
eyes    are    prominent,  and  so   placed    that    the    reptile  can 


see    before   it,    and    also    below  —  that    is,    down   into    the 

On  first  sight  it  might  be  a  matter  of  wonder  that  so  large 
a  serpent  should  condescend  to  a  meal  of  rats  and  mice  ; 
but  to  explain  this  we  must  again  go  back  to  the  early 
naturalists,  when  we  discover  that  what  Seba  called  le  rat 
d' Ameriqiie  was  a  rodent  quite  worth  constricting  for  dinner. 
Under  the  order  Miiridce  were  included  in  those  days  a 
number  of  the  larger  rodents,  such  as  the  Paca,  Mus 
Braziliensis ;  the  Coypu,  Mus  coy  pus ;  Myopotamus,  the 
Capybara  ;  the  Murine  opossum,  and  several  others,  aquatic 
in  their  habits,  and  large  enough  to  attract  the  'Giant  of 
the  Waters.' 

From  the  vernacular  Matatoro,  or  '  Bull  killer,'  also  a 
whole  century  of  misrepresentations  have  arisen,  the  said 
'bull'  being  really  as  small  in  proportion  as  the  'rats'  and 
'  mice '  were  large.  *  The  deer  swallowcr '  is  another  of  its 
local  titles,  showing  that  it  is  a  serpent  of  varying  tastes. 
Stories  are  told  of  this  '  monster '  killing  itself  in  attempting 
to  gorge  large  animals  with  enormously  extended  horns, 
animals  not  to  be  found  among  the  Brazilian  fauna ;  and 
familiar  to  most  persons  are  the  illustrations  of  anacondas 
of  untraceable  length,  the  posterior  portion  coiled  round  a 
branch  fifty  feet  high,  and  the  anterior  coiled  round  a 
bull  as  big  as  a  prize  ox.  These  illustrations  are  the  off- 
spring of  ignorance  rather  than  reality,  and  though  occa- 
sionally Etuiectes  might  come  to  grief  by  attacking  a 
somewhat  unmanageable  meal,  yet  its  recognised  specific, 
vmrinus  or  murina,  points  more  clearly  the  true  nature  of 
its  food,  viz.  rodents  of  at  most  some  two  feet  long. 

230  SNAKES. 

No  less  exaggerated  than  its  appetite  is  its  length.  Pos- 
sibly anacondas  may  have  attained  greater  size  formerly 
when  there  were  fewer  enemies  than  at  present,  if  it  be 
true,  as  some  have  affirmed,  that  serpents  grow  all  their 
lives.  Thirty  feet  is  the  utmost  length  on  record.  Wallace 
affirms  that  he  has  never  seen  one  exceeding  twenty  feet. 
Those  individuals  at  the  Zoological  Gardens  have  rarely 
exceeded  this,  and  Giinther  gives  twenty-two  feet  as  their 
average  length  in  the  present  day. 

Of  those  known  in  South  Africa  as  '  water  snakes,'  one  is 
Aviisainans  vernacularly,  a  black  one  and  common,  and 
another,  Ijfulu^  of  a  beautiful  bright  green.  Mr.  Wood- 
Avard,  whose  scientific  egg-sucker  has  been  already  mentioned 
in  chap,  iii.,  states  that  both  these  are  poisonous,  that  he 
never  saw  the  green  one  out  of  water,  and  that  it  is  unsafe 
to  bathe  where  they  are.  On  referring  to  Dr.  Andrew 
Smith's  Zoology  of  South  Africa,  I  am  not  able  to  identify 
these  with  certainty,  and  do  not,  therefore,  give  the  above 
as  scientific  information. 

But  before  concluding  this  part  of  the  subject,  I  would 
add  a  word  or  two  on  the  importance  of  an  accurate  descrip- 
tion of  the  snake,  as  far  as  possible,  when  one  is  found  in 
some  unusual  situation ;  because  a  snake  being  found  in  the 
water  is  no  proof  that  it  is  a  water  snake,  or  even  that  it 
was  there  by  choice.  Livingstone,  in  his  Expedition  to  the 
Zambesi^  p.  150,  describes  the  number  of  venomous  crea- 
tures, such  as  scorpions,  centipedes,  etc.,  that  were  found 
on  board,  'having  been  brought  into  the  ship  with  wood.' 
*  Snakes  also  came  sometimes  with  the  wood,  but  oftener 
floated  down  the  river  to  us,  climbing  easily  by  the  chain 


cable.  Some  poisonous  ones  were  caught  in  the  cabin. 
A  green  one  was  there  several  weeks,  hiding  in  the  day- 

Often  in  newspapers  are  stories  of  'sea  snakes'  as  having 
appeared  quite  out  of  their  geographical  range.  These 
on  investigation  may  reasonably  be  traced  to  land  snakes 
which  have  been  carried  out  by  the  tidal  rivers.  In  Land 
and  Water  of  Jan.  5,  1878,  was  such  a  story.  Again,  March 
31,  the  following  year,  a  correspondent,  'J.  J.  A.,'  on  'Animal 
Life  in  New  Caledonia,'  stated  that  the  sea  inside  the 
reefs  is  sometimes  covered  with  both  dead  and  living  crea- 
tures carried  out  by  the  violence  of  the  currents  after  heavy 
rains.  '  The  flooded  rivers  rush  with  great  force  from  the 
mountains,'  and  numbers  of  reptiles  were  among  the  victims 
of  that  force.  He  saw  'incredible  numbers  of  snakes,'  and 
described  the  common  sea  snakes  as  '  stupid,  fearless  things, 
that  will  not  get  out  of  your  way.  .  .  .  The  small  sand- 
islands  are  literally  alive  with  them.'  The  writer  made  no 
pretensions  to  be  a  naturalist,  or  to  state  confidently  what 
the  snakes  were  specifically.  New  Caledonia  would  seem 
to  be  rather  beyond  the  range  of  sea  snakes  proper,  and 
those  '  incredible  numbers '  may  have  been  only  land  snakes 
involuntarily  taking  a  sea  bath,  or  certain  species  frequenting 
brackish  waters,  like  those  in  South  Carolina  described 
by  Lawson. 

About  the  same  time  an  American  newspaper  contained 
an  account  given  by  Captain  O.  A.  Pitfield,  of  the  steam- 
ship Mexico,  who  stated  that  he  had  'passed  through  a 
tangled  mass  of  snakes '  off  the  Tortuga  islands,  at  the 
entrance  to  the  Gulf  of  Mexico.     The  ship  was  '  more  than 

232  SNAKES. 

an  hour '  in  passing  them.  '  They  were  of  all  sizes,  from  the 
ordinary  green  water  snake  of  two  feet  long,  to  monsters, 
genuine  "  sea  serpents,"  of  fourteen  to  fifteen  feet  in  length.' 
I  replied  to  both  these  communications  at  the  time  {Land  and 
Water,  April  5,  1879),  inviting  further  information,  and  de- 
scribing the  features  by  which  true  water  and  true  sea  snakes 
could  be  easily  distinguished.  Nothing  further  appeared  on 
the  subject,  and  I  have  little  doubt  but  that,  in  both  cases, 
the  '  shoals  of  sea  snakes '  were  land  species  that  had  been 
merely  carried  out  to  sea  by  force  of  rivers,  I  have 
since  been  more  strongly  inclined  to  this  opinion  on 
learning  from  Dr.  Stradling  that  similar  transportations 
of  snakes  occur  through  the  force  of  some  of  the  South 
American  rivers.  *  Do  you  know  the  snakes  which  belong 
to  the  River  Plate  proper } '  he  asks  me  by  letter.  '  So 
many  are  brought  down  by  floods  from  Paraguay — even 
the  big  constrictors — that  it  is  difficult  to  determine  from 
occasional  specimens.' 

I  could  not,  unfortunately,  refer  to  any  books  that  afforded 
much  information  on  this  subject ;  for  amongst  the  greatest 
literary  needs  experienced  by  an  ophiologist  is  some  com- 
plete and  special  work  on  the  South  American  snakes, 
corresponding  with  Giinther's  Reptiles  of  British  India,  and 
Y^rtKt's  Snakes  of  Ansiralia. 

Other  writers  have  mentioned  the  occurrence  of  boa  con- 
strictors and  anacondas  far  out  at  sea  occasionally,  beguiling 
the  unsophisticated  into  reporting  a  veritable  '  sea  serpent  * 
to  the  Times  by  the  first  homeward-bound  mail. 



THE  modifications  of  ordinary  forms  which  are  seen 
in  the  fresh-water  snakes  are  still  more  beautifully 
developed  in  the  Hydrophidce,  or  true  marine  serpents.  The 
former,  being  never  out  of  easy  reach  of  shore,  could  easily 
find  a  safe  harbour  from  violent  torrents,  in  holes  in  the 
banks  or  among  the  strong  aquatic  weeds  along  the  borders 
of  lakes  and  rivers  ;  and  to  be  enabled  to  hold  on  to  these  in 
times  of  danger  or  of  repose,  they  possess  a  prehensile  power 
of  tail.  In  a  rough  and  stormy  ocean,  a  much  more  powerful 
propeller  and  rudder  would  be  necessary  for  the  guidance 
of  the  reptile,  and  to  afford  resistance  against  the  denser 
medium  of  sea  water ;  therefore  the  tail  of  sea  snakes  is  not 
only  prehensile  but  strongly  compressed,  so  as  to  almost 
form  a  vertical  fin,  answering  altogether  to  that  of  a  fish. 
This  is  their  most  conspicuous  and  striking  feature,  and  one 
that  w^ould  leave  no  doubt  in  the  mind  of  the  observer 
between  the  true  marine  and  those  fresh-water  species  which 
may  by  accident  drift  out  to  sea  by  force  of  current. 

Another  distineuishingf  feature  is  the  absence  of  ventral 


2  34  SNAKES. 

scales  in  most  of  the  species.  In  land  snakes  we  saw  how 
admirably  adapted  are  the  broad,  ventral  plates 
for  assisting  those  reptiles  over  rough  sur- 
faces, as  affording  hold  ;  but  the  HydrophidcB 
requiring  no  such  aid  in  a  fluid,  those  scutse 
would  be  useless  ;  they  are  therefore,  excepting 
in  one  or  two  species,  entirely  absent,  or  but 
slightly  developed,  and  the  belly  -is  ridged 
instead,  like  the  keel  of  a  boat.  ^    .       .   . 

'  Portion  of    the 

The  nostrils  are  small,  placed   horizontally  on  s^a^nakl?  above 

1  r     ^  '  ^  TT  J  '  1  i     ^"^^     below      the 

the  top  of  the  snout,  as  m  the  nomalopsiacs,  and  anus,  with  no  dis- 
tinction   in    tail 

in  most  of  the  sea  snakes  they  are  contiguous.  ^^^'^^• 
They  are,  moreover,  furnished  with  a  valve,  which  is  under 
control  of  the  will,  opening  to  admit  air,  and  closing  to 
exclude  water  when  diving.  For,  be  it  remembered,  these 
marine  reptiles  breathe  through  their  nostrils  even  more 
entirely  than  terrestrial  snakes,  the  latter  being  better  able 
to  indulge  their  yawning  propensities,  or  to  occasionally 
respire  slightly,  and  through  parted  lips  and  the  tongue  chink 
as  well.  Sea  snakes,  on  the  contrary,  not  requiring  the 
continual  use  of  their  tongue  to  feel  and  explore  surround- 
ings, and  not  using  it  below  water,  are  not  provided  with 
the  little  centre  chink  for  its  exsertion  ;  but  the  middle  plate 
of  the  upper  lip,  i.e.  the  'rostral  shield  '  (see  illus.  p.  238),  is 
altogether  of  a  different  form.  Indeed,  the  centre  plates  or 
shields  in  both  lips  are  conspicuously  modified,  the  upper 
one  often  inclining  downwards  in  a  point  which  fits  into 
the  lower  one  shaped  to  receive  it,  so  that  the  mouth  is 
firmly  closed  to  keep  out  the  water.  Less  required,  the 
tongue  is  shorter  and  less  developed,  the  tips  are  less  hair- 


like,  as  only  these,  if  at  all,  are  exposed  to  the  sea  water, 
and  a  very  small  notch  on  each  side  of  the  pointed  rostral 
shield  of  some  permits  the  slight  egress  of  these  tips. 
When  out  of  their  natural  element,  the  tongue  is  brought 
into  more  active  service,  for  then  the  bewildered  reptiles 
require  its  assistance,  and  it  is  then  seen  to  be  exserted 
as  in  land  snakes.  Their  lungs  extend  the  whole  length 
of  the  body  to  the  anus,  and  by  retaining  a  large  supply  of 
air,  these  animals  are  enabled  to  float  easily,  as  they  do  for 
a  long  while  on  the  surface  of  the  calm  tropical  seas,  not 
only  while  sleeping,  as  mentioned  in  the  chapter  on  hiber- 
nation, but   in  pure  enjoyment,  and    probably  in   the   lazy 


postprandial  condition. 

As  has  been  already  stated,  the  eyes  of  sea  snakes 
are  adapted  to  see  better  through  the  medium  of  water 
than  through  the  brilliant  atmosphere  of  their  native 
latitudes.  They  are  very  small,  and  soon  blinded  by 
light  ;  consequently,  though  among  the  swiftest  and 
most  gracile  of  serpents  in  their  native  element,  the 
movements  of  the  HydrophidcB  on  land  are  uncertain  and 
'  maladroit.' 

Some  forty  years  ago.  Dr.  Theodore  Cantor,  F.Z.S., 
devoted  a  good  deal  of  time  to  the  study  of  the  pelagic 
serpents,  and  wrote  a  somewhat  detailed  account  of  them 
to  the  Zoological  Society.  His  paper,  published  in  the 
Zoological  Society  Transactions,  1842,  vol.  ii.,  was  considered  the 
most  important  that  had  as  yet  appeared.  He,  therefore, 
has  been  one  of  our  first  authorities.  Subsequently  we  are 
indebted  to  Giinther,  Dr.  E.  Nicholson,  Gerard  Krefft,  and 
Sir  Joseph  Fayrer  for  the  results  of  their  individual  obscrva- 

236  SNAKES. 

tions.  In  my  foregoing  descriptions  I  have  culled  from  each 
of  these,  and  as  most  modern  writers  on  this  subject  merely 
reproduce  from  the  works  of  Giinther,  Cantor,  and  Fayrer, 
I  will  keep  chiefly  to  these  in  what  further  has  to  be  said  of 
sea  snakes. 

First,  they  belong  to  the  tropical  seas  of  the  Eastern  hemi- 
sphere, and  are  most  numerous  in  the  Indian  Ocean,  where 
they  abound.  The  geographical  range  of  a  few  is,  however, 
somewhat  extensive,  viz.  from  Madagascar  and  that  part  of 
the  African  coast  to  northern  Australia,  the  Bay  of  Bengal, , 
and  even  to  the  western  coasts  of  Panama  ;  while  others  are 
restricted  to  certain  localities.  All  are  highly  venomous. 
They  are  wild  and  ferocious  as  well,  and  therefore  peculiarly 
dangerous,  and  are  the  great  dread  of  fishermen,  who 
carefully  avoid  them.  Accidents,  nevertheless,  frequently 
happen  through  their  being  caught  in  the  nets,  when,  from 
their  exceeding  activity,  it  is  difficult  to  disengage  them 
and  set  them  free  again.  When  out  of  the  water  they 
try  to  bite  at  the  nearest  objects,  and  being  dazzled  by  the 
light,  strike  wildly,  unable  to  aim  correctly.  Cantor  informs 
us  that  he  has  known  them  to  turn  and  strike  their  own 
bodies  in  their  rage,  and  that  he  has  found  difficulty  in 
disengaging  their  fangs  and  teeth  from  their  own  flesh. 

Owing  to  the  great  danger  attending  their  capture,  and 
also  the  almost  impossibility  of  keeping  them  alive  when 
out  of  the  sea,  less  is  accurately  known  of  the  pelagic  than 
most  other  snakes.  Even  if  placed  in  a  large  hole  in  the 
ground  filled  with  sea  water,  or  a  capacious  tank  similarly 
supplied,  they  die  very  rapidly.  Sir  Joseph  Fayrer  in  his 
experiments  resorted  to  every  means  in  order  to  keep  them 


alive,  but  informs  us  that  their  exceeding  delicacy  caused 
their  rapid  death  in  spite  of  the  utmost  care.  Dr.  Vincent 
Richards,  however,  has  succeeded  in  keeping  some  alive 
several  weeks. 

In  length  they  vary  from  two  to  ten  feet.  Krefift  says 
that  the  largest  he  ever  saw  was  nine  feet  long.  Giinther 
states  that  they  sometimes  attain  twelve  feet,  and  sea 
snakes  of  even  fourteen  feet  in  length  have  been  occa- 
sionally reported,  though  not  perhaps  from  well  authenti- 
cated sources.  It  is  probable  that,  like  all  other  reptiles, 
they    attain    their    greatest     proportions    in     the    hottest 


Though  purely  oceanic,  and  no  more  found  in  fresh  water 
than  on  dry  ground,  yet  they  come  some  distance  up  the 
rivers  as  far  as  brackish  water.  When  washed  on  shore  by 
the  surf,  they  are  helpless  and  blind,  and  at  such  times 
'  peaceable,'  by  reason  of  their  helplessness.  Occasionally 
they  are  seen  coiled  up  asleep  on  the  beach,  where  they 
have  probably  been  washed  by  the  tide,  and  where  the  next 
tide  will  no  doubt  release  them  from  their  uncongenial 
bed.  Those  species  which  have  a  less  keeled  body  and 
the  partially  developed  ventral  scales  might  even  manage 
to  get  back  to  sea  independently  of  the  tide.  Even  those 
without  ventral  scales  contrive  to  wriggle  along  in  their  own 

Such  an  occurrence  is  related  by  Mr.  E.  H.  Pringle  in  the 
Field  newspaper  of  3d  September  1881.  He  tracked  an 
Enhydrina  fifty  feet  along  the  sands,  making  its  way  back 
to  the  sea  from  a  salt-water  pool,  where  it  had  probably 
been   left  by  the  tide.     This   species  is   the  one  peculiarly 

238  SNAKES. 

favoured  in  having  tiny  orifices  for  the  egress  of  the  tongue 
tips  on  each  side  of  its  lobulated  snout. 

Its  profile,  being  somewhat  remarkable,  is  here  presented 
to  the  reader,  who  will  perhaps 
detect  a  certain  determination 
in  that  very  beak-like  snout. 
This  species  is  found  along  the 
Burman  coast.     Another,  though 

.  ,  .  ,  ,  Enhydfina.     From  Fayrer's 

keepmg  to  its  native  element,  has  Thanatophidia. 

explored  the  Pacific  to  the  very  borders  of  America,  and 
has  been  seen  on  the  western  coast  of  Panama.  This  is 
Pelaniis  bicoloi%  of  distinct  black  and  yellow,  like  a  striped 
satin  ribbon.  The  back  is  black,  and  the  belly  brown  or 
yellowish,  and  its  rather  short,  flat  tail  is  spotted  with  a 
bluish  colour  as  well.  None  of  his  relatives  venture  so  far 
from  the  oriental  islands  as  Pelaniis.  His  presence  as  far 
north  as  New  Caledonia  has  not,  that  I  am  aware  of,  been 
authoritatively  recorded  ;  we  cannot  suggest,  therefore,  the 
probability  of  *J.  J.  A.'s '  sea  snakes,  'stupid  and  fearless,' 
being  'incredible  numbers'  of  the  Pelamis  family.  Dr. 
Stradling  affirms  that  they  are  '  not  unfrequently  met  with 
along  the  eastern  coast  of  South  America,  and  that  one 
found  its  way  on  board  the  royal  mail  steamship  Douro, 
and  concealed  itself  under  the  covering  of  the  patent  lead, 
having  probably  climbed  up  the  quarter  line  as  she  lay 
made  fast  to  the  wharf  at  Santos.'  ^ 

Some  slight  controversy  on  the  possibility  of  Pelamis 
'climbing'  followed  this  statement.  But  Mr.  F.  Buckland 
also  recorded  one  Svhich  crawled   up  the   anchor-chain  of 

^  See  />V/^/ newspaper,  June  25,  18S1. 


a  man-of-war,  when  she  was  moored  in  the  mouth  of 
the  Ganges.  The  midshipman  of  the  watch  saw  some- 
thing moving  along  the  chain,  and  without  thinking 
went  to  pick  it  up,  when  it  turned  upon  him,  and  bit 
him.  The  poor  young  midshipman  did  not  live  many 
hours  after  the  accident'  {Land  and  Water ^  Nov.  15, 

In  the  same  issue  the  writer  described  one  which  was 
caught  in  the  telegraph  wire  of  the  Eastern  Extension 
Telegraph  Company.  One  of  the  cables  was  being  raised, 
and  when  it  came  to  the  surface,  the  snake  was  found 
coiled  tightly  round  it.  HydropJiis  was  here  exercising 
his  prehensile  powers,  not  understanding  the  reason  of  the 
violent  motion.  Snakes,  as  has  been  already  affirmed,  are 
not  restricted  in  their  acrobatic  achievements  ;  so  that  even 
sea  snakes,  not  naturally  either  climbers  or  crawlers,  can  do 
both  on  an  occasion. 

The  more  interesting  question  regarding  Dr.  Stradling's 
cable  climber  is,  was  it  a  true  Pelaniisy  or  one  of  the 
Hydrophidce  at  all }  If  so,  it  was  more  likely  to  be  an 
entirely  distinct  species  from  those  of  the  oriental  seas, 
liither  Cape  Horn  or  the  Cape  of  Good  Hope  would  be 
far  too  southward  for  their  range,  they  being  essentially 
tropical.  When  Panama  comes  to  be  severed  by  water 
communication,  some  enterprising  Pelaniis  or  EnJiydi'ina 
may  find  its  way  through,  and  get  down  even  to  Santos  ; 
but  at  present,  as  Dr.  Stradling  did  not  see  the  snake,  but 
only  heard  of  it,  the  evidence  of  the  presence  of  ILydropJiidcB 
on  the  eastern  coast  of  South  America  cannot  be  fully 

240  SNAKES. 

A  further  facility  to  their  agile  and  graceful  Natural  size, 
movements  in  the  water  are  their  smooth,  non- 
imbricated,  or  only  slightly  imbricated  scales. 
These,  though  mostly  hexagonal,  and  laid  side 
by  side,  different  from  those  of  land  snakes, 
yet  vary  much  in  size  and  form  ;  and  the  head 
shields  particularly  are  so  abnormal,  that,  as 
Giinther  affirms,  you   can   tell  a  sea  snake  at 

Same  magnified. 

once  by  them  (see  illustrations,  chap,  xviii.).         ^        ,    .     i 

To  distinguish  a  pelagic  from  a  fresh-water  ^"""""ofhidJa"""'' 
snake  is,  however,  far  easier  than  to  distinguish  species 
among  themselves.  They  present  great  varieties  of  form 
and  colour,  but  the  transitions  are  very  gradual,  and  the 
female  is  generally  larger  than  the  male,  and  sometimes  of 
a  different  colour,  which  adds  to  the  difficulty. 

They  are  all  viviparous,  and  produce  their  young  in  the 
water,  where  the  little  ones  are  at  once  able  to  take  care 
of  themselves,  and  feed  on  small  fish  or  molluscs.  The 
full-grown  HydropJiidcE  feed  on  fish  corresponding  with  their 
own  dimensions,  and  swallowed  head  foremost.  Even  spiny 
fish  are  managed  by  them,  notwithstanding  that  they  have 
a  smaller  jaw  than  most  land  snakes.  Being  killed  by  the 
poison  of  the  bite  on  being  caught,  Giinther  explains,  the 
muscles  of  the  fish  are  relaxed,  and  the  prey  being  com- 
menced at  the  head,  the  armature  does  not  interfere,  but 
folds  back  fiat  as  the  fish  is  gradually  drawn  into  the  jaws. 

An  interesting  study  to  the  lover  of  nature  it  is  to  watch 
the  wonderful  movements  of  these  sea  reptiles.  Swimming 
and  diving  with  equal  facility,  flashing  into  sight  and  dis- 
appearing   again    in    twos    or    scores,    or    in    large    shoals, 


pursuing  fish,  many  of  them  of  bright  colouring,  they  offer 
constant  amusement  to  the  beholder.  Sometimes,  when 
the  sailors  are  throwing  their  nets,  they  disappear  beneath 
the  waves,  and  are  no  longer  seen  for  half  an  hour  or 
more  ;  when  presently,  far  away  from  the  spot  where  they 
vanished  so  suddenly,  up  they  come  to  the  surface  again, 
to  sport  once  more,  or  take  in  a  fresh  supply  of  air. 

Pity  they  possess  such  evil  qualities  to  blind  us  to  their 
beauties,  for  they  rank  among  the  most  venomous  of 
serpents.  They  belong  to  the  sub-order  of  venomous 
colubrine  snakes,  or  Opliidia  colubrifonnes  Venenosi,  those 
which  outwardly  have  the  aspect  of  harmless  snakes,  while 
yet  furnished  with  poison  fangs.  In  the  chapter  on  Denti- 
tion, these  distinctions,  facilitated  by  the  illustrations,  are 
more  fully  explained  ;  here  it  need  only  be  said  that  though 
they  have  smaller  jaws  and  shorter  fangs  than  many  other 
venomous  snakes  of  their  size,  the  virus  is  plentiful,  and 
so  active  that  the  danger  from  the  bite  is  great.  All  the 
pelagic  serpents  have  also  a  few  simple  teeth  behind  the 
fangs ;  therefore,  as  Fayrer  warns  the  natives,  it  does  not 
do  to  trust  to  the  appearance  of  the  wound,  which,  though . 
looking  like  the  bite  of  a  harmless  snake,  would  demand 
immediate  remedies.  A  certain  conviction  of  dancrer  is 
that  the  bite  being  Inflicted  in  salt  water,  would  leave  no 
doubt  as  to  the  nature  of  the  snake.  Even  a  painless 
wound  it  is  not  safe  to  trust ;  and  Sir  Joseph  Fayrer  gives 
several  such  warnings  among  his  cases  of  bite  from  sea 
snakes,  two  of  which  I  will  quote. 

Captain   S ,  while  bathing  in  a  tidal   river,  felt  what 

he  thought  was  the  pinch  of  a  crab  on  his  leg,  but  took  no 


242  SNAKES. 

notice  of  It,  and  after  his  bath  called  on  some  friends,  being 
to  all  appearance  exceedingly  well.  He  remained  about 
an  hour,  playing  the  concertina  to  amuse  the  children,  and 
declaring  himself  never  In  better  health.  In  about  two 
hours,  feeling  strange  symptoms  of  suffocation,  enlargement 
of  the  tongue,  and  a  rigidity  of  muscles,  he  sent  for  a 
doctor,  but  still  having  no  suspicion  of  danger.  The  next 
morning  a  native    detected    the   peculiar   symptoms   which 

usually  follow  the  bite  of  a  sea  snake  ;  and  Captain  S , 

then  examining  the  foot  which  the  supposed  crab  had 
nipped,  found  marks  of  fangs  no  bigger  than  mosquito 
bites  on  the  tendon  Achilles  near  the  ankle.  Immediate 
steps  were  taken,  and  remedies  applied  which  seemed  to 
promise  favourable  results  for  a  time ;  but  in  the  evening 
of  the  third  day  the  victim  was  seized  with  spasms,  and 
died,  seventy-one  hours  after  the  accident.  In  this  case, 
owing  to  the  sound  health  of  the  captain,  and  no  local  pain 
ensuing  to  warn  him,  together  with  the  stimulants  and 
remedies  applied,  and  the  bite  being  where  absorption  was 
slow,  his  death  was  protracted  ;  otherwise  death  often  occurs 
within  twenty-four  hours  from  that  species  of  snake.^ 

The  second  case  was  that  of  a  man  who  was  bitten  In 
the  finger  by  a  sea  snake,  and  thinking  lightly  of  It,  used 
no  means  whatever  to  arrest  the  poison,  and  was  dead  in 
four  hours. 

In  some  cases  the  victim  becomes  quickly  insensible, 
when,  if  no  aid  is  near,  he  never  wakes  to  consciousness. 
Immediate  stimulants  revive  the  patient,  and  If  he  can 
be  kept  awake,  these,  with  local  applications,  at  once  applied^ 

^  Thanatophidia  of  India,  1st  ed. 


may  save  his  life.     '  Hope   itself  is   a  powerful  stimulant/ 
adds  the  learned  experimentalist. 

Many  other  cases  are  given  by  Fayrer  of  bites  by 
sea  snakes,  some  of  which  yielded  to  remedies  and  others 
were  fatal ;  but  for  these  the  reader  is  referred  to  the 

Dr.  Cantor  had  previously  made  many  experiments  on 
various  dumb  creatures  in  order  to  ascertain  the  virulence 
of  the  poison  of  these  hitherto  unstudied  reptiles.  He 
found  that  a  fowl  died  in  violent  spasms  eight  minutes 
after  a  bite  ;  and  a  second  fowl,  bitten  directly  afterwards 
by  the  same  snake,  with  its  half-exhausted  venom,  in  ten 
minutes.  Fish  died  in  ten  minutes  ;  a  tortoise  in  twenty- 
eight  minutes,  from  the  bite  of  another  species ;  and  a 
harmless  snake  was  paralyzed  within  half  an  hour. 

Among  the  fresh-water  snakes,  Dr.  Giinther  tells  us  of  one, 
Hydrimis^  which  is  semi-pelagic,  and  which  indulges  in  little 
excursions  down  the  rivers  to  exchange  greetings  with  his 
marine  relatives,  some  of  whom,  on  their  part,  occasionally 
go  a  certain  distance  up  the  rivers.  Again,  among 
the  sea  snakes  is  one  who  rambles  for  change  of  air  or 
diversity  of  diet  over  the  fields  and  far  away.  In  him,  Dr. 
Giinther  describes  one  of  those  many  transitions  found  in 
every  class  and  order  throughout  nature.  Platnriis  is  his 
name  ;  he  has  the  ventral  scales  of  land  snakes  to  enable 
him  to  wander  over  the  salt  water  marshes  which  he  loves. 
His  nostrils  are  on  the  side  of  his  head  instead  of  on  the  top, 
and  his  head  shields  differ  from  those  of  all  his  relatives. 
His  venom  fangs  are  small,  and  his  tail  is  not  prehensile, 
presenting  the  united  cb.aracters  of  fresh  and  salt  water  and 

244  SNAKES. 

land  snakes.  Thus  we  have  links  between  sea  and  land 
snakes,  between  fresh  water  and  salt,  and  between  these  latter 
and  fishes,  for  in  many  instances  the  affinities  are  so  close 
that  naturalists  have  doubted  in  w4iich  class  to  place  them. 
When  that  remarkable  animal,  the  Lepidosiren,  w'hich  Darwin 
calls  a  living  fossil,  was  first  brought  from  Africa  some  thirty 
years  ago,  it  was  found  to  present  so  many  characteristics 
in  common  with  both  reptiles  and  fishes,  that  it  was  for 
some  time  a  mooted  question  in  which  class  to  place  it.  In 
appearance  it  more  resembles  the  former,  with  its  four  curious 
filamentary  limbs,  which  Owen  considers  '  the  beginnings  of 
organs  which  attain  full  functional  development  in  the  higher 
vertebrates.'  The  same  high  authority  has  decided  that  the 
only  character  which  absolutely  distinguishes  fishes  from 
reptiles,  so  closely  are  some  of  them  allied,  is  whether  or  not 
there  is  an  open  passage  from  the  nostrils  to  the  mouth;  and 
the  '  Lepidosiren  '  is  now  known  as  '  the  mud-fish  of  the 
Gambia/  the  ichthyic  characters  predominating. 

Sea  snakes  were  not  unknown  to  the  ancients.  Aristotle 
mentions  them  (Taylor's  Translation,  1812,  Book  ii.  vol.  6), 
*  Of  sanguineous  animals,  however,  there  remains  the  genus 
of  serpents.  But  they  partake  of  the  nature  both  of  terres- 
trial and  aquatic  animals.  For  most  of  them  are  terrestrial, 
and  not  a  few  are  aquatic,  and  which  live  in  potable  water. 
There  are  also  marine  serpents  similar  in  form  to  the  terres- 
trial genus,  except  that  their  head  more  resembles  that  of  a 
conger.  There  are,  however,  many  genera  of  marine  ser- 
pents, and  they  are  an  all-various  colour  ;  but  they  are  not 
generated  in  very  deep  places.' 

These  latter  words  suggest  what  has  not  been  mentioned 


as  a  positive  fact,  while  yet  in  part  it  is  corroborated  by 
Cantor,  who  tells  us  that  the  young  sea  snakes  feed  on  soft- 
shelled  molluscs  ;  we  may  argue,  therefore,  that  the  mother 
snakes  come  into  shallow  water  to  give  birth  to  their  young, 
where  small  fish  and  suitable  food  may  abound.  Aristotle 
was  evidently  aware  of  the  distinctions  between  fresh  and 
salt  water  snakes,  and  gives  us  the  former  as  frequenting 
rivers  ('  potable  waters  '). 

The  Greek  mariners  who  frequented  the  tropical  seas 
knew  of  the  poisonous  snakes  with  wholesome  dread.  Sir 
Emerson  Tennant  tells  us  that  the  fishermen  on  the  west 
coast  of  Ceylon  are  still  in  perpetual  fear  of  them.  They 
say  there  are  some  with  the  head  hooded  like  the  cobra, 
that  coil  themselves  up  like  serpents  on  land,  not  only 
biting  with  their  teeth,  but  'crushing  their  prey  in  their 

The  *  hood  '  part  of  the  story  is  not  borne  out  by  any 
scientific  writer ;  and  as  for  the  '  crushing  in  coils,'  the 
sailors  may  possibly  mistake  the  prehensile  actions  of  hold- 
ing on — even  to  a  large  fish — possibly  for  the  action  of 
crushing  in  the  way  of  constricting.  In  self-protection,  or 
for  safety,  venomous  serpents  do  entwine  themselves  pretty 
tightly  round  an  object  sometimes.  An  instance  of  this  was 
just  now  given.  But  constricting  for  the  purpose  of  killing 
is  happily  confined  to  the  non-venomous  families.  It  would 
indeed  be  terrible  if  the  'giants  of  the  waters'  could  both  con- 
strict and  bite  with  poison  fang ;  and  of  this  a  word  or  two 
will  be  said  in  the  following  chapter.  Admittedly  but  little 
has  been  accurately  ascertained  about  the  marine  serpents 
in  comparison  with   the  terrestrial  ones.     And  there  really 

246  SNAKES. 

may  be  species  hitherto  unobserved.  The  great  sea  serpent 
question  is  not  yet  satisfactorily  settled  ;  and  among  the 
lesser  kind,  the  true  pelagians,  varieties  are  frequently 
occurring.  Krefift  describes  one  in  the  Australian  Museum 
which,  not  being  like  any  other  that  he  had  seen,  he  sets 
down  as  a  new  type.  Forty-eight  distinct  species  were 
described  by  Cantor.  The  whole  family  comprises  seven 
genera,  four  of  which  belong  to  the  Indian  Ocean. 



THE  question  of  varieties  and  of  constriction  brings  us  to 
*  The  Great  Sea  Serpent;'  for,  putting  all  the  evidence 
together,  if  the  creature  exist  at  all  he  must  be  a  constrictor. 

I  do  not  intend  to  trouble  my  readers  with  the  detailed 
history  of  this  great  unknown,  for  his  literature  would  more 
than  exceed  the  limits  of  this  whole  volume.  Those  who 
are  sufficiently  interested  in  him  will  find  ample  reading  in 
most  of  the  encyclopedias,  which  again  refer  us  to  various 
books  in  which  he  has  figured  from  his  first  supposed 
appearance  in  modern  times. 

Ever  and  again,  when  a  new  *  sea  monster '  has  been 
reported,  the  newspapers  take  up  the  theme,  and  often  give 
a  resume  of  its  history,  from  Bishop  Pontoppidan's  down  to 
the  most  recent  specimen.  References  to  the  most  important 
of  the  journalistic  authorities  usually  accompany  the  more 
detailed  accounts  ;  but  among  them  an  excellent  abridgement 
of  '  sea  serpent '  literature,  which  appeared  in  the  llliistyated 
London  Nezvs  of  October  1 848,  is  worth  studying.  Another  of 
interest  was  in  the  Echo  of  January  15,  1877.     In  Silliman's 

248  SNAKES. 

Journal  of  Science,  1835,  was  also  an  excellent  paper.  One 
of  the  best  digests  is  that  given  by  P.  H.  Gosse,  in  his 
Romance  of  Natural  Histoiy,  of  the  ed.  i860.  This  author, 
after  weighing  all  the  published  evidence  both  from  ordinary 
and  scientific  sources,  and  presenting  it  in  a  well-arranged 
and  lucid  form,  sums  up  as  follows  : — 

*  In  conclusion,  I  express  my  own  confident  persuasion 
that  there  exists  some  oceanic  animal  of  immense  propor- 
tions, which  has  not  yet  been  received  into  the  category  of 
scientific  zoology  ;  and  my  strong  opinion  that  it  possesses 
close  affinities  with  the  fossil  enaliosaiiria  of  the  lias.' 
-  Having  respect  for  the  opinion  of  so  thoughtful  a  writer, 
and  further  encouraged  by  the  fact  that  some  of  our  most 
eminent  physiologists  have  not  thought  it  beneath  them  to 
give  their  attention  to  the  various  serpentine  appearances 
which  from  time  to  time  are  seen  at  sea,  and  that  the 
majority  of  them  believe  in  the  possibility  of  an  unknown 
marine  reptile,  let  us  accept  this  idea  as  the  basis  of  an 
endeavour  to  lay  before  my  readers  another  summing  up 
of  evidence  gathered  from  the  still  more  recent  writings  on 
'  The  Great  Sea  Serpent  *  of  modern  times. 

Those  who  have  honoured  this  book  with  attentive  perusal 
thus  far,  will  have  become  initiated  in  certain  ophidian 
manners,  actions,  and  appearances  which  would  enable  them 
at  once  to  identify  a  snake  were  they  to  have  a  complete 
view  of  one.  But  to  those  who  are  not  familiar  with  such 
peculiarities,  and  possess  only  a  vague  idea  of  the  ophidian 
form,  many  a  merely  elongated  outline  at  sea  may  be,  and  has 
been,  set  down  as  a  *  serpent,'  which  on  closer  inspection,  or  by 
the  light  of  science,  has  prov^ed  something  entirely  different. 


Ribbon-fish,  strings  of  porpoises  and  other  cetaceans,  long- 
lines  of  sea-birds  on  the  surface  of  the  waves,  even  logs  of 
drifting  wood  or  bamboo,  with  bunches  of  seaweed  doing 
service  as  'manes'  or  'fins,'  have  in  turn,  and  by  the  aid  of  the 
imagination,  been  dubbed  '  the  sea  serpent '  again  and  again. 
These  may  be  dismissed  by  the  mere  mention  of  a  few  such 
as  examples.  For  instance,  in  Nature,  vol.  xviii.,  1878,  Dr. 
Dean  describes  a  reported  '  sea  serpent,'  which  resolved 
itself  into  a  flight  of  birds.  E.  H.  Pringle  describes  the 
serpentine  appearance  of  a  bamboo  swaying  up  and  down, 
which  at  a  distance  had  deceived  the  beholders  into  the  idea 
of  the  sea  serpent ;  others  explained  that  long  lines  of  birds' 
or  of  sea-weeds  had  again  similarly  deceived  sailors.  In 
Land  and  Water,  Sept.  22,  1877,  we  read  that  the  crew  of 
the  barque  Aberfoyle,  off  the  coast  of  Scotland,  thought  they 
really  had  got  one  this  time,  and  approaching  the  *  monster,' 
lowered  and  manned  a  boat,  and  seized  a  harpoon  to '  catch  * 
the  singularly  passive  creature,  which  proved  to  be  a  mass 
of  '  a  sort  of  jelly-fish  description,'  some  of  which  they  bottled 
and  corked  down  air-tight  ;  but,  alas  !  it  '  deliquesced  '  ! 

Again,  in  Nature,  Feb.  10,  188 1,  an  imaginary  sea  serpent 
seen  from  the  City  of  Baltimore  (a  ship  in  which  the  present 
writer  crossed  the  Atlantic,  though  unfortunately  not  on 
that  voyage)  was  pronounced  to  be  a  species  of  whale,  the 

One  more  out  of  scores  of  similar  reports,  which  go  to 
show  that  if  some  unknown  marine  animal  of  a  longish  form 
is  caught,  those  who  have  anything  to  do  with  it  immedi- 
ately label  it  'the  sea  serpent.'  In  Land  and  IVater,  Au^. 
24,   1878,  Mr.  Frank  Buckland  published  a  communication 

2  50  SNAKES. 

from  an  Australian  correspondent,  regarding  a  *  most  re- 
markable fish,'  of  nearly  fifteen  feet  long,  and  eight  inches  in 
diameter  at  the  thickest  part.  It  has  'no  scales,'  but  'a 
skin  like  polished  silver,'  is  of  a  tapering  form,  has  a  very- 
queer  mouth,  a  '  mane  '  on  the  neck,  and  '  two  feelers  under 
the  chin,  thirty-two  inches  long.'  And  this  unsnake-like 
thing  was  taken  to  the  Mechanics'  Institute  of  that  town, 
and  unhesitatingly  labelled  '  Sea  Serpent ! '  Dr.  Buckland 
suggested  that  it  was  a  ribbon  fish. 

Thus,  we  may  repeat  that  it  is  almost  impossible  for  an 
unscientific  person  even  to  see^  far  less  to  describe,  unfamiliar 
living  forms  in  a  manner  that  would  prove  sound  data  for 
zoologists  to  decide  upon. 

In  a  rather  detailed  communication  to  Land  mid  Water 
on  this  subject,  by  Dr.  Andrew  Wilson,  September  15, 
1877,  he  also  reminds  us  how  easily  and  frequently  we  may 
trace  supposed  resemblances  to  animals  or  faces,  where  none 
can  possibly  exist ;  as,  for  instance,  '  in  the  gnarled  trunks 
and  branches  of  trees.'  Much  more  true  resemblances  to 
serpentine  forms  are  really  seen  at  sea ;  as,  for  example, 
those  '  floating  trunks  and  roots  of  trees  serving  as  a  nucleus, 
around  which  sea-weed  has  collected.'  In  one  instance, 
as  Dr.  Wilson  relates,  some  such  object,  seen  from  the 
deck  of  a  yacht,  was  so  deceptive  even  to  intelligent  men 
who  scrutinized  it  through  the  telescope,  that  the  course  of 
the  ship  was  changed  on  purpose  to  inspect  it  closely. 
Dr.  Wilson  resfrets  the  unfortunate  discredit  which 
has  been  cast  upon  all  sea-serpent  stories  through  such 
erroneous  observations,  causing  even  the  more  trustworthy 
accounts  to  be  received  with  almost  universal  ridicule,  and 


as  already  observed  in  the  opening  of  chap,  xiii.,  almost 
to  the  ienorin^  of  the  true  sea  snakes,  which  are  too  often 
included  among  the  mythical. 

Briefly  to  enumerate  some  of  those  which  appear  to  have 
recently  had  the  chiefest  claims  to  attention  as  really  living 
creatures,  otherwise  than  flights  of  birds  or  shoals  of  fish, 
but  making  due  allowance  for  unscientific  observations,  and 
vague  or  exaggerated  representations,  we  find  that  gigantic 
marine  animals  were  observed  as  follows  : — 

1734.     Off  Greenland. 

1 740.     Off  Norway  ;  described  by  Bishop  Pontoppidan  as  600  feet  in  length. 

1809.     Off  the  Hebrides. 

1815.     Near  Boston,  U.S. 

1 81 7.     Ditto. 

1819.     Ditto.     From  80  to  250  yards  in  length ! 

1 8 19.     One  seen  for  a  month  off  Norway. 

1822.     Ditto  ;  and  again  600  feet  long. 

1827.     Ditto. 

1829.  Mr.  Davidson,  surgeon,  R.N.,  described  one  seen  in  the  Indian  seas 
as  precisely  similar  to  that  seen  afterwards  from  the  Dccdalus  in  1848.  He 
wrote  of  it  during  the  controversy  that  passed  regarding  the  latter.  Mr.  Gosse 
regarded  his  testimony  as  of  much  value. 

1833.  One  seen  by  five  British  officers  off  Halifax,  and  described  by  P.  H. 

1837.     Again  off  Norway. 

1846.  Off  Norway,  and  in  the  same  locality  as  one  seen  about  one  hundred 
years  previously ;  also  during  the  hottest  part  of  the  summer.  This  individual 
had  two  '  fins,'  and  '  the  movements  were  like  those  of  a  snake  forty  to  fifty  feet 

1848.     The  one  seen  from  the  Dadaltis. 

1850.  Off  Norway. 

1 85 1.  Ditto. 

1S52.     One  described  by  Captain  Steele,  mentioned  by  Gosse. 

1857.  One  described  by  Captain  Harrison,  and  considered  trustworthy  evi- 

1875.  One  seen  from  the  Pauline,  July  8,  in  lat.  5'  Z^  S.,  long.  35"  W. 
Also  on  July  13,  '  a  similar  serpent '  seen  from  the  same  barque  Pauline. 

1875.  September  11.  'An  enormous  marine  salamander'  in  the  Straits  of 
Malacca,  seen  from  the  Nestor. 

252  SNAKES. 

1877,     Large  marine  animal  seen  from  the  royal  yacht  Oshonie  off  Sicily. 

1879.  Colonel  Leathes,  of  Herring  Fleet  Hall,  Yarmouth,  informs  Mr.  F. 
Buckland  of  sea  serpents  seen  from  the  White  Adder  off  Aden,  and  again  off 
New  Guinea  and  the  Cape.     (See  Land  and  Water^  Sept.  6,  1879.) 

In  the  above  list  we  are  struck  by  the  fact  that  the  coast 
of  Norway  and  the  northern  seas  diirhig  tJie  Jcottest  weatJicr 
are  the  favourite  playgrounds  of  these  gigantic  marine 
animals,  though  as  for  the  '  600 '  feet,  we  must  first  be 
assured  of  Norwegian  measurement  before  forming  any 
estimate  beyond  that  the  creatures  were  doubtless  of  great 
length.  *  Witnesses  of  unimpeachable  character '  have  pro- 
duced so  much  trustworthy  evidence  as  far  as  Norway  is 
concerned,  that  no  doubt  any  longer  exists  there  as  to  '  the  ' 
or  a  *  marine  animal '  of  enormous  length.  *  There  is  scarcely 
a  sailor  who  has  not  seen  one,'  it  has  been  broadly  stated  ; 
and  Norwegians  wonder  that  English  naturalists  are  so 
sceptical  on  the  subject. 

Of  still  more  marvellous  proportions  was  the  one  seen  off 
the  American  coast  in  18 19,  and  which  is  vaguely  described 
as  from  80  to  250  yards  !  That  outdoes  Norway  altogether  ; 
but  then,  of  course,  an  American  sea  serpent  would  exceed 
all  others. 

Next  to  the  Norwegian,  the  American  coast  was  at  one 
time  so  favoured  by  strange  marine  *  monsters,'  that  they 
were  commonly  reported  as  *  the  American  sea  serpent.' 
Excepting  these  northern  Atlantic  visitants,  others  have 
been  observed  mostly  in  the  eastern  seas,  rarely  in  the 

This  has  given  rise  to  the  question,  *  How  is  it  that  they 
are  seen  almost  exclusively  in  the  north } '     One  reason  may 


be  that  there  are  more  persons  to  see  them,  and  because 
marine  traffic  is  far  greater  in  the  north  than  in  similar 
southern  latitudes ;  and  another  reason  may  be,  that  the 
rocky  coasts  of  both  continents  in  those  latitudes  may  afford 
congenial  retreats  for  mammoth  marine  reptiles.  We  have 
seen  that  reptiles  exist  for  a  very  long  period  without 
breathing,  and  even  without  air ;  as,  for  instance,  those  en- 
cased in  baked  mud  in  the  tropics,  and  those  frozen  up  or 
bottled  up  tight  and  hermetically  sealed,  as  the  examples 
given  in  preceding  chapters. 

From  long  observation  of  ophidian   habits,  I   venture  to 
offer  certain  suggestions  in  addition  to  published  opinions  ; 
and  I  may  remind  my  readers  that  as  all  reptiles  undergo 
a    species    of    hibernation,   we    may    reasonably    conclude 
that  these  huge  marine  ones  form  no  exception  to  the  rule. 
They   may   lie    for  months  dormant  in  the   deep    recesses 
of  the  ocean,  and  reappear  during  the  long  days  and  hot 
weather   like   their   land  relatives.      It  seems   strange  that 
so  far  from  this  having  been  taken  into  consideration,  it  has 
become  the  fashion  to  ridicule   the    '  reappearance   of  the 
great  sea  serpent '  at  the  very  time  when  all  other  reptiles 
reappear  as  a  matter  of  course.     Long  days  are  more  favour- 
able for  observations,  and  probably  log-books  record  many 
other  creatures,  whether  mammal,  bird,  or  fish,  seen  during 
the  summer  and  not  in  other  seasons,  as  well  as  '  sea  ser- 
pents.'    Not  because  this   is  the  slack  time  of  journalists, 
therefore,  who  are  supposed   to  be  at  their    wits'   end    for 
subjects,  but  simply  because  ships  coming  home  at  this  time 
bring  reports  of  their  summer  observations. 

It  is  much  to  be  regretted  that  these  reports  have  come 

2  54  SNAKES. 

to  be  associated  with  'the  gigantic  gooseberry,'  and  such 
seasonable  wonders,  because  the  door  to  investigation  is  thus 
closed.  It  is  also  to  be  regretted  that  many  hoaxes  have 
undeniably  been  committed  to  print,  really  to  fill  up  news- 
paper columns,  and  feed  a  love  of  the  marvellous.  Professor 
Owen's  words  may  well  be  repeated  here,  '  It  is  far  harder  to 
establish  a  truth  than  to  kill  an  untruth.' 

One  more  little  matter  is  also  to  be  seriousl}'  deplored  ; 
and  this  is  the  unscientific  habit  of  calling  all  these  un- 
familiar animals  '  monsters,'  a  word  signifying  truly  a 
monstrosity,  a  creature  with  two  heads,  a  beast  with  five  or 
six  legs  instead  of  four,  or  other  such  malformations.  These 
are  truly  monsters,  and  to  use  the  term  otherwise  only 
creates  mistaken  impressions.  Inadvertently  even  scientific 
men  fall  into  this  habit ;  naturalists  and  well-known  autho- 
rities are  seen  in  print  to  talk  of  these  sea  '  monsters,'  but 
who  in  the  same  page  denounce  exaggerated  expressions. 

In  Land  and  Water  of  September  8,  1877,  several  of  our 
distinguished  naturalists  contributed  papers  on  the  evidence 
of  the  officers  of  the  royal  yacht  Osborne,  relative  to  a  large 
marine  animal  seen  off  Sicily  on  June  3  of  that  year. 
Professor  Owen  also  acceded  to  an  earnest  request  to 
add  a  few  words  on  the  subject,  and  it  was  noticeable 
that  more  than  once  In  his  few  pithy  lines  this  eminent 
authority  delicately  hinted  at  the  mistake  of  calling  animals 
'monsters'  without  just  reason  for  so  doing:  'The  pheno- 
mena were  not  necessarily  caused  by  a  monster]  he  writes  ; 
*  and  the  words  .  .  .  denote  rather  a  cetacean  than  a  monster! 
Again,  '  There  are  no  grounds  for  calling  it  a  morister! 

On  the  occasion  referred   to,   the  official  reports  of  the 

'  THE  GREAT  SEA  serpent:  255 

animal  seen  were  sent  to  the  Admiralty;  and  the  Right 
Hon.  R.  A.  Cross,  then  Secretary  of  State  for  the  Home 
Department,  requested  the  opinion  of  Mr.  Frank  Buckland 
on  the  matter,  the  result  being  a  full  account  given  to 
the  readers  of  Land  and  Water,  to  which  Mr.  F.  Buckland 
was  so  popular  a  contributor.  In  addition  to  Owen's  valued 
opinion,  the  public  were  favoured  with  able  papers  by  Mr. 
A.  D.  Bartlett,  of  the  Zoological  Gardens,  Captain  David 
Gray,  of  the  whaling  ship  Eclipse,  Mr.  Henry  Lee,  and 
Frank  Buckland  himself. 

From  the  discrepancies  in  the  records  of  the  four  officers, 
and  the  sketches  of  nothing  in  nature  which  accompanied 
those  records,  not  one  of  those  able  writers  ventured  an 
assertion  as  to  what  the  strange  animal  could  possibly  be. 
The  captain — Commander  Pearson — 'saw  the  fish  through 
a  telescope;'  a  'seal-shaped  head  of  immense  size,  large 
flappers,  and  part  of  a  huge  body.' 

Lieutenant  Haynes  saw  *a  ridge  of  fins  above  the  surface 
of  the  water,  extending  about  thirty  feet,  and  varying  from 
five  to  six  feet  in  height.'  Through  the  telescope  he  saw 
'  a  head,  two  flappers,  and  about  thirty  feet  of  an  animal's 
shoulder ;  the  shoulder  was  about  fifteen  feet  across.'  The 
animal  propelled  itself  by  its  two  '  fins.' 

Mr.  Douglas  M.  Forsyth  saw  *a  huge  monster,  having 
a  head  about  fifteen  to  twenty  feet  in  length.'  The  part 
of  the  body  not  in  the  water  'was  certainly  not  under 
forty-five  or  fifty  feet  in  length.' 

Mr.  Moore,  the  engineer,  observed  'an  uneven  ridge  of 
what  appeared  to  be  the  fins  of  a  fish  above  the  surface 
of  the  water,  varying  in   height,  and  as  near  as  he  could 

256  SNAKES. 

judge,  from  seven  to  eight  feet  above  the  water,  and  ex- 
tending about  forty  feet  along  the  surface.' 

Though  we  are  not  able  to  say  what  this  strange  animal 
really  was,  we  can  positively  affirm  what  it  was  not.  A 
snake  has  neither  fins,  flippers,  flappers,  nor  'shoulders 
fifteen  feet  broad ; '  therefore  this  assuredly  was  no  *  sea 
serpent'  Nor  would  it  be  introduced  here,  excepting  as 
inviting  further  comment  on  its  mysterious  existence. 

And  curious  enough  it  is  to  remark  the  persistence  with 
which  all  these  anomalies  are  announced  as  '  the  sea  serpent,' 
as  if  the  sea  produced  but  one  solitary  specimen,  which  is 
now  the  shape  of  a  '  turtle  ; '  next  of  a  *  frog,'  w^ith  '  one 
hundred  and  fifty  feet  of  tail ; '  then  a  creature  with  '  fins ' 
and  a  'mane,'  'flippers'  and  'flappers'  and  'ridges  of  fins.* 
All  these  appendages  are  one  after  the  other  described, 
and  yet  as  belonging  to  a  'serpent,'  which  has  no  such 

A  few  of  the  recorders  do  really  describe  something 
more  of  the  true  ophidian,  and  those  who  do  this,  not 
being  familiar  with  ophidian  manners,  are  more  useful  as 
witnesses  than  those  who  at  once  report  a  '  serpent,'  and 
afterwards  proceed  unknowingly  to  disprove  their  own 

Among  the  more  noteworthy,  the  following  account, 
copied  from*  the  Liverpool  papers  at  the  time,  is  worth 
considering : — 

' The  story  of  the  mate  and  crew  of  the  barque  Pau'iue,  of  London,  said  to 
have  arrived  in  port  from  a  twenty  months'  voyage  to  Akyab,  about  having 
seen  a  "sea  serpent"  while  on  a  voyage  in  the  Indian  seas,  was  yesterday 
declared  to  on  oath  before  Mr.  Raffles,  the  stipendiary  magistrate  at  the  police 
court.     The  affidavit  was  made  in  consequence  of  the  doubtfulness  with  which 


anything  about  the  sea  serpent  has  hitherto  been  received ;  and  to  show  the 
genuine  character  of  the  story,  it  has  been  placed  judicially  on  record.  The 
following  is  a  copy  of  the  declaration,  which  wll  be  regarded  as  unprecedented 
in  its  way  : — 

'  ^^  Borough  of  Liverpool,  in  the  County  Palatine  of  Lancaster,  to  wit. 

'  "We,  the  undersigned,  captain,  officers,  and  crew  of  the  barque  Pauline  (of 
London),  of  Liverpool,  in  the  county  of  Lancaster,  in  the  United  Kingdom  of 
Great  Britain  and  Ireland,  do  solemnly  and  sincerely  declare  that,  on  July  8, 
1875,  in  lat.  5°  13'  S.,  long.  35°  W.,  we  observed  three  large  sperm  whales, 
and  one  of  them  was  gripped  round  the  body  with  two  turns  of  what  appeared 
to  be  a  huge  serpent.  The  head  and  tail  appeared  to  have  a  length  beyond  the 
coils  of  about  thirty  feet,  and  its  girth  eight  or  nine  feet.  The  serpent  whirled 
its  victim  round  and  round  for  about  fifteen  minutes,  and  then  suddenly  dragged 
the  whale  to  the  bottom,  head  first. 

*  **  George  Drevar,  Master. 

*  "  Horatio  Thompson. 

*  "John  Henderson  Landells. 

*  "OwExN  Baker. 

'  '*  William  Lewarn. 

*  "Again,  on  July  13,  a  similar  serpent  was  seen  about  two  hundred  yards  off, 
shooting  itself  along  the  surface,  head  and  neck  being  out  of  the  water  several 
feet.  This  was  seen  only  by  the  captain  and  one  ordinary  seaman,  whose 
signatures  are  affixed. 

'  "George  Drevar,  Master. 

'  "A  few  moments  after,  it  was  seen  elevated  some  sixty  feet  perpendicularly  in 

the  air,  by  the  chief  officer  and  the  following  able  seamen,  whose  signatures 

are  also  affixed  : — 

'  "  Horatio  Thompson. 

*  "William  Lewarn. 

'  "  And  we  make  this  solemn  declaration,  conscientiously  believing  the  same  to 
be  true,  and  by  virtue  of  the  provisions  of  an  Act  made  and  passed  in  the 
sixth  year  of  the  reign  of  his  late  Majesty,  intituled  an  Act  to  repeal  an  Act 
of  the  present  session  of  Parliament,  intituled  an  Act  for  the  more  effectual 
abolition  of  oaths  and  affirmations,  taken  and  made  in  various  departments 
of  the  State,  and  to  substitute  declarations  in  lieu  thereof,  and  for  the  more 
entire  suppression  of  voluntary  and  extra-judicial  oaths  and  affidavits,  and  to 
make  other  provisions  for  the  abolition  of  unnecessary  oaths. 

'  "George  Drevar,  Master. 

*  "William  Lewarn,  Stezvard. 

*  "Horatio  Thompson,  Chief  Officer. 

'  "John  Henderson  Landells,  Second  Officer. 

*  "Owen  Baker. 


258  SNAKES. 

*  "Severally  declared  and  subscribed  at  Liverpool  aforesaid,  the  tenth  day  of 
January,  one  thousand  eight  hundred  and  seventy-seven,  before  T.  S.  Raffles, 
J. P.  for  Liverpool.'" 

In  the  above  descriptions  there  is  no  mention  of  fins, 
flippers,  or  mane,  but  simply  the  manners  of  a  huge  con- 
strictor, with  the  head  and  the  tail  free,  and  the  middle 
portion  of  its  body  engaged  in  crushing  the  prey,  a  process 
which  may  at  any  time  be  seen  in  a  captive  constrictor 
seizing  its  food.  The  *  whirling  its  victim '  was,  no  doubt, 
in  the  struggle  between  the  two,  the  whale  using  its  power- 
ful efforts  to  escape,  but  being  overcome  at  last.  Nor  in 
comparison  with  the  size  of  the  described  serpent  would  a 
whale  be  impracticably  large. 

Again,  in  the  next  one  seen,  the  true  serpent  motion  is 
unintentionally  exhibited  in  the  'shooting  itself  along  the 
surface,  the  head  and  neck  being  several  feet  out  of  water.' 
Snakes  continually  advance  with  their  heads  elevated  ;  and 
their  rapid,  darting  movements  are  well  expressed  by 
*  shooting.' 

'A  few  minutes  after,  it  was  seen  elevated  some  sixty 
feet  perpendicularly  in  the  air.'  Sixty  feet  at  a  guess. 
Unless  some  mast,  the  precise  height  of  which  was  known, 
or  some  other  perpendicular  object  were  in  close  proximity, 
it  would  be  exceedingly  difficult  to  estimate  the  height. 
To  an  unaccustomed  eye  even  twenty  or  thirty  feet  of  snake 
suddenly  darting  upright  from  the  waves  would  be  a  startling 
and  bewildering  spectacle  ;  yet  we  know  that  land  snakes 
raise  themselves  in  this  manner  one-third,  one-half,  or  for 
a  moment  even  more  than  that ;  'stand  erect,'  some  physio- 
logists have  stated  (see  p.  181);    so  again,  unintentionally, 


and  by  those  not  likely  to  be  familiar  with  ophidian  capa- 
bilities, is  a  natural  action  described. 

In  several  other  instances,  the  animal  seen  has  raised  its 
head  many  feet,  and  'let  it  down  suddenly;'  exactly  what 
land  snakes  do. 

The  one  seen  from  on  board  H.M.S.  Dcedahcs  in  1848 
is  considered  one  of  the  most  circumstantially  recorded 
evidences  of  some  really  existing  serpentine  animal  within 
the  memory  of  many  still  living.  It  was  much  commented 
upon  in  the  journals  of  that  year,  and  claims  a  passing 
mention  here. 

Captain  M'Quhae,  who  commanded  the  Dcedalus,  in  an 
official  report  to  the  Admiralty,  gave  the  date  of  the 
'monster's'  appearance  as  August  6,  1848,  and  its  exact 
locality  in  the  afternoon  of  that  day  as  lat  24°  44'  S.,  and 
long.  9°  22'  E.,  which  would  be  somewhere  between  the 
Cape  of  Good  Hope  and  St.  Helena.  In  his  own  mind 
the  captain  had  no  doubt  whatever  as  to  the  nature  of  the 
animal,  which  he  simply  reported  as  an  '  enormous  serpent, 
with  head  and  shoulders  kept  about  four  feet  constantly 
above  the  surface  of  the  sea  ;  and  as  nearly  as  we  could 
approximate,  by  comparing  it  with  the  length  of  what  our 
main-topsail  yard  would  show  in  the  water,  there  was, 
at  the  very  least,  sixty  feet  of  the  animal  a  Jiciir  d'eaii,  no 
portion  of  which  was,  to  our  perception,  used  in  propelling 
it  through  the  water,  either  by  vertical  or  horizontal  undula- 
tions. There  seemed  to  be  as  much  as  thirty  to  forty  feet 
of  tail  as  well.'  The  animal  passed  the  ship  'rapidly,  but 
so  close  under  our  lee-quarter,  that,  had  it  been  a  man  of 
my  acquaintance,  I  should  easily  have  recognised  his  features 

2  6o  SNAKES. 

^vith  the  naked  eye.'  The  size  of  the  creature  is  given  as 
about  fifteen  or  sixteen  inches  diameter  in  the  neck  'behind 
the  head,  which  was,  without  doubt,  that  of  a  snake.'  No 
fins  were  seen,  but  'something  Hke  the  mane  of  a  horse, 
or  rather  a  bunch  of  seaweed  w^ashing  about  its  back.'  Its 
progress  was  about  fifteen  miles  an  hour,  and  it  remained 
twenty  minutes  in  sight. 

Lieutenant  Drummond,  also  of  the  Dcedahis,  reported 
what  he  saw,  and  from  his  log-book,  while  the  captain's 
was  from  memory.  The  lieutenant  thought  he  saw  'a  back 
fin  ten  feet  long,  and  also  a  tail  fin.'  The  head  was  'rather 
raised,  and  occasionally  dipping,  and  gave  him  the  idea  of 
that  of  a  large  eel.' 

Without  being  an  ophiologist.  Captain  M'Quhae  also 
unintentionally  describes  a  creature  of  ophidian  habits  and 
proportions.  He  inadvertently  says  'shoulders,'  when,  as 
my  readers  know,  a  snake  has  anatomically  no  shoulders, 
any  more  than  '  neck.'  But  for  all  that,  the  raised  head,  and 
the  absence  of  any  striking  movements  in  the  part  visible, 
are  the  manners  of  a  serpent  in  the  water,  when  propelled 
by  its  tail,  which  would  be  out  of  sight ;  and  the  captain 
simply  describing  what  he  saw,  but  giving  no  name,  those 
acquainted  with  herpetology  would  at  once  decide  that  he 
described  a  long-necked  and  slender  reptile  of  some  sort, 
perhaps  some  enormous  saurian,  whose  feet  were  under 
water,  if  not  a  serpent. 

There  were  many  learned  discussions  concerning  this 
creature,  and  for  these  I  refer  my  reader  to  the  journals 
and  scientific  publications  of  the  time.  No  one  doubted 
the  fact  that  some  strange  animal  w^as  seen,  but  the  wisest 


refrained  from  giving  it  a  name.  Very  similar  was  the 
verdict  on  the  more  recent  object  seen  from  the  Osborne  in 
1877  ;  but  in  those  thirty  intervening  years  a  vast  stride  had 
been  made  in  zoological  knowledge;  and  in  the  very  able 
papers  written  on  this  later  phenomenon,  we  now  find  a 
general  disposition  to  accept  the  fact  that  there  are  gigantic 
forms  of  marine  animals  existing,  that  have  not  as  yet 
been  scientifically  described  and  received  into  systematic 

Mr.  A.  D.  Bartlett,  in  the  discussion  already  alluded  to, 
after  dispassionately  reviewing  and  criticizing  the  evidence  of 
H.M.'s  officers,  thus  concludes: — 

'  When  we  consider  the  vast  extent  of  the  ocean,  its  great  depth,  the  rocky, 
cavernous  nature  of  the  bottom, — of  many  parts  of  which  we  know  really  nothing, 
— who  can  say  what  may  be  hidden  for  ages,  and  may  still  remain  a  mystery  for 
generations  yet  to  come  ;  for  we  have  evidence  on  land  that  there  exists  some  of 
the  largest  mammals,  probably  by  thousands,  of  which  only  one  solitary  indi- 
vidual has  been  caught  or  brought  to  notice.  I  allude  to  the  Hairy-eared  Two- 
horned  Rhinoceros  (A',  lasiotis),  captured  in  1868  at  Chittagong  (where  it  was 
found  stranded  in  the  mud),  and  now  known  as  an  inhabitant  of  the  Zoological 

*  This  animal  remains  unique,  and  no  part  or  portion  was  previously  known  to 
exist  in  any  museum  at  home  or  abroad. 

'  (We  have  here  an  instance  of  the  existence  of  a  species  found  on  the  con- 
tinent of  India,  where  for  many  years  collectors  and  naturalists  have  worked  and 
published  lists  of  all  the  animals  met  with,  and  have  hitherto  failed  to  meet  with 
or  obtain  any  knowledge  of  this  great  beast.) 

'May  I  not  therefore  presume  that  in  the  vast  and  mighty  ocean,  animal?, 
perhaps  of  nocturnal  habits  (and  therefore  never,  except  by  some  extraordinary 
accident,  forced  into  sight),  may  exist,  whose  form  may  resemble  the  extinct  rep- 
tiles whose  fossil  remains  we  find  in  such  abundance. 

'  As  far  as  I  am  able  to  judge  from  the  evidence  before  me,  I  have  reason  to 
believe  that  aquatic  reptiles  of  vast  size  have  been  seen  and  described  by  those 
persons  who  have  endeavoured  to  explain  what  they  have  witnessed. 

*  One  thing  is  certain,  that  many  well-known  reptiles  have  the  power  of  re- 
maining for  long  periods  (months,  in  fact)  at  the  bottom,  under  water  or  imbedded 
in  soft  mud,  being  so  provided  with  organs  of  circulation  and  respiration  that  they 
need  not  come  to  the  surface  to  breathe.     The  large  crocodiles,  alligators,  and 

262  SNAKES. 

turtles  have  this  power,  and  I  see  no  valid  reason  to  doubt  but  that  there  may 
and  do  exist  in  the  unknown  regions  of  the  ocean,  creatures  so  constructed. 

*  It  may  be  argued  that  if  such  animals  still  live,  they  must  from  time  to  time 
die,  and  their  bodies  would  float,  and  their  carcases  would  be  found,  or  parts  of 
them  would  wash  on  shore.  To  this  I  say:  however  reasonable  such  arguments 
may  appear,  most  animals  that  die  or  are  killed  in  the  water,  sink  at  first  to  the 
bottom,  where  they  are  likely  to  have  the  flesh  and  soft  parts  devoured  by  other 
animals,  such  as  Crustacea,  fishes,  etc.  etc.,  and  sinking  in  the  deep,  the  bones, 
being  heavier  than  the  other  parts,  may  soon  become  imbedded,  and  thus  con- 
cealed from  i^ight.'  ^ 

It  was  gratifying  to  me  to  find  my  own  ideas  of  hiberna- 
tion thus  supported,  the  above  allusion  to  the  probability  of 
temporary  repose  in  marine  reptiles  being  the  first  I  had  met 

Mr.  Henry  Lee,  in  the  same  issue,  reminds  us  that  the  ex- 
istence of  gigantic  cuttle-fish  was  popularly  disbeheved  until 
within  the  past  five  or  six  years,  during  which  period  several 
specimens — some  of  them  fifty  feet  in  total  length — have 
been  taken,  and  all  doubts  upon  the  subject  have  been  re- 
moved. He  argues,  also,  that  during  the  deep-sea  dredgings 
of  H.M.  ships  Lightning,. Porcupine,  and  Challcjiger,  many 
new  species  of  mollusca,  supposed  to  have  been  extinct  ever 
since  the  Chalk  epoch,  were  brought  to  light,  and  that  there 
were  brought  up  by  the  deep  -  sea  trawlings  from  great 
depths  fishes  of  2mknoivn  species^  which  could  not  exist  near 
the  surface  ozuing  to  the  distension  and  rupture  of  their  air- 
bladder  luhen  removed  from  the  pressure  of  deep  zvater. 

Forcibly  suggestive  are  such  facts  of  still  further  undis- 
covered denizens  of  the  deep !  And  as  to  what  they  are, 
fish,  mammal,  or  reptile,  or  a  compound  of  either  two  or  all 
three  of  these,  why  doubt  any  possibility  when  we  know  that 
on  land  are  similarly  complicated  organisms  which  so  lately 
have   perplexed    our   most   able   physiologists?      Take,  for 


example,  that  curious  anomaly,  the  mud-fish  of  the  Gambia, 
Lepidosiren,  referred  to  in  the  last  chapter,  and  which,  to  look 
at,  is  as  much  like  a  lizard  as  a  fish,  with  its  four  singular 
appendages  where  either  legs  or  fins  might  be.  Again,  w^e 
have  that  paradox  in  nature — bird,  reptile,  and  quadruped 
combined — in  the  Australian  Platypus,  a  semi-aquatic  animal. 
*  These  two  fresh-water  animals  are,'  says  Darwin, '  among  the 
most  anomalous  forms  now  found  in  the  world ;  and  like 
fossils,  they  connect,  to  a  certain  extent,  orders  at  present 
widely  sundered  in  the  natural  scale.' ^  Other  equally  re- 
markable links  between  the  various  groups  might  be  cited  to 
prepare  us  for  any  marine  anomalies  which  may  hereafter 
surprise  us.  Taking  into  consideration,  also,  that  many  of 
our  smaller  aquatic  animals  have  their  representatives  on  a 
huge  scale  in  the  ocean,  why  should  there  not  be  gigantic 
ophidian  forms  to  correspond  with  the  terrestrial  pythons 
and  anacondas  }  As  in  point  of  size  salt-water  fishes  exceed 
those  of  our  rivers,  and  as  the  enormous  marine  mammalia 
exceed  those  on  land,  we  might  the  rather  wonder  if  there  w^ere 
not  one  *  great  sea  serpent,'  but  many  unsuspected  species  of 
reptiles,  compound  ophiosaurians,  or  saurophidians,  or  who 
shall  say  what,  in  those  inaccessible  depths. 

'  How  is  it  none  have  ever  been  captured } '  it  is  asked. 
In  reply.  Has  any  one  ever  captured  a  swiftly-retreating 
land  snake  escaping  pursuit }  Who  can  overtake  or  circum- 
vent it  when  in  its  tropical  vigour  1  And  how  vastly  must 
the  powers  and  swiftness  of  those  immense  pelagians  exceed 
the  kinds  with  which  we  are  familiar  !  '  Then,  Why  have 
no   bones   been  found  } '       Mr.  Bartlett's  reason  is  one   of 

1  Origin  of  Spccu's,  6th  ed.  1872,  p.  ^l- 

2'64  SNAKES. 

those  assigned,  and  in  addition  I  may  suggest  that  the  love 
of  locaHty,  so  strong  in  land  reptiles,  may  also  exist  in  marine 
ones,  which  probably  retire  to  the  recesses  of  their  sub- 
marine habitats  to  die. 

*  How  is  it  none  have  ever  been  killed  ? '  Well !  A  cannon 
ball  on  the  instant,  and  not  much  less,  would  be  required  to 
'  kill  it  on  the  spot,'  as  some  have  sagely  recommended. 

Mr.  Henry  Lee,  among  others,  does  not  regard  capture  as 
impossible ;  and  in  support  of  my  own  speculations — more 
correctly  speaking  imagination,  perhaps — I  give  the  conclud- 
ing words  of  his  paper: — 

•  I  therefore  think  it  by  no  means  impossible— first,  that  there  may  be  gigantic 
marine  animals  miknown  to  science  having  their  ordinary  habitat  in  the  great 
depths  of  the  sea,  only  occasionally  coming  to  the  surface,  and  perhaps  avoiding 
habitually  the  light  of  day ;  and,  second,  that  there  may  still  exist,  though  sup- 
posed to  have  been  long  extinct,  some  of  the  old  sea  reptiles  whose  fossil  remains 
tell  of  their  magnitude  and  habits,  or  others  of  species  unknown  even  to  paleon- 

'The  evidence  is,  to  my  mind,  conclusive  that  enormous  animals,  with  which 
zoologists  are  at  present  unacquainted,  exist  in  the  "great  and  wide  sea,"  and  I 
look  forward  hopefully  to  the  capture  of  one  or  more  of  them,  and  the  settlement 
of  this  vexed  question.' 

I  cannot  conclude  this  chapter  without  further  reference 
to  one  other  of  our  very  popular  physiologists.  Dr.  Andrew 
Wilson.  The  week  following  that  in  which  Owen,  Captain 
Gray,  and  Messrs.  Lee,  Buckland,  and  Bartlett  contri- 
buted their  opinions  to  Land  and  Water,  September  8,  1877, 
Dr.  Wilson  also  favoured  its  readers  with  two  closely  written 
pages  on  'The  Sea  Serpent  of  Science.'  Some  of  his 
introductory  words  have  been  already  quoted.  He  then 
presents  the  claims  to  attention  which  these  various  '  sea 
monsters '    offer,   as    reported    by   thoroughly    trustworthy 


Avitnesses,  suggesting  that   the   idea  of   a  '  serpent '   Is  too 

Notwithstanding  much  already  said,  the  opinion  of  Dr. 
Wilson  will  be  valued  by  many  of  my  readers,  and  I 
therefore  give  portions  in  his  own  words: — 

'  As  far  as  I  have  been  able  to  ascertain,  zoologists  and  other  writers  on  this 
subject  have  never  made  allowance  for  the  abnormal  and  huge  deyelopvicnt  of 
ordinary  marine  animals.  My  own  convictions  on  this  matter  find  in  these 
the  most  reasonable  and  likely  explanation  of  the  personality  of  the  sea  serpent, 
and  also  the  reconciliation  of  such  discrepancies  as  the  various  narratives  may 
be  shown  to  evince.  ...  I  think  we  may  build  up  a  most  reasonable  case 
both  for  their  existence  and  for  the  explanation  of  their  true  nature,  by  taking 
into  account  the  fact  that  the  term  ^'sea  serpent,"  as  ordinarily  employed,  must 
be  extended  to  include  other  forms  of  vertebrate  animals  tvhich  possess  elongated 
bodies :  and  that  cases  of  the  abnormally  large  development  of  ordiiiary  serpents  a7id 
of  serpent-like  animals  "will  reasonably  account  for  tJie  occurrence  of  the  animals 
popularly  tiamed^^ sea  serpents.^''  .  .  . 

*  Whilst  to  my  mind  the  only  feasible  explanation  of  the  narrative  of  the  crew 
of  the  Paidine  must  be  founded  on  the  idea  that  the  animals  observed  by  them 
were  gigantic  snakes,  the  habits  of  the  animals  in  attacking  the  whales  evidently 
point  to  a  close  correspondence  with  those  of  terrestrial  serpents  of  large  size, 
such  as  the  boas  and  pythons;  whilst  the  fact  of  the  animals  being  described  in 
the  various  narratives  as  swimming  with  the  head  out  of  the  water  would  seem 
to  indicate  that,  like  all  reptiles,  they  were  air-breathers,  and  required  to  come 
more  or  less  frequently  to  the  surface  for  the  purpose  of  respiration.' 

Apology  is  due  to  so  eminent  a  physiologist  for  having  first 
given  expression  to  my  own  opinion  on  the  Pauline  serpent, 
though  in  tardily  quoting  a  high  authority  I  may  risk  sus- 
picion of  plagiarism.  I  must  be  permitted  to  explain,  there- 
fore, that  on  seeing  the  subject  ventilated  in  Land  and  Water 
(to  which  I  had  for  some  years  been  a  contributor  on  ophi- 
dian matters),  I  also,  though  uninvited,  prepared  a  paper 
on  'the  sea  serpent'  In  a  letter  to  the  Editors,  I  even 
presumed  to  criticise  part  of  what  had  lately  appeared, 
enclosing  MS.  with  yet  more. 

266  SNAKES. 

In  reply,  I  was  informed  that  the  subject  would  not  be 
continued  or  *  re-opened,'  and  my  returned  MS.  is  still  before 
me,  much  of  it  now  for  the  first  time  being  presented  to  the 
public.     To  proceed  with  Dr.  Wilson: — 

*  The  most  important  feature  in  my  theory,  .  .  .  and  that  which  really  con- 
stitutes the  strong  point  of  this  explanation,  is  the  probability  of  the  development 
of  a  huge  or  gigantic  size  of  ordinary  marine  serpents.  .   .    . 

*  Is  there  anything  more  improbable,  I  ask,  in  the  idea  of  a  gigantic  develop- 
ment of  an  ordinary  marine  snake  into  a  veritable  giant  of  its  race ;  or,  for  that 
matter,  in  the  existence  of  distinct  species  of  monster  sea  serpents,  than  in  the 
production  of  huge  cuttle-fishes,  which,  until  within  the  past  few  years,  remained 
unknown  to  the  foremost  pioneers  of  science  ?  In  the  idea  of  the  gigantic  de- 
velopments of  snakes  or  snake-like  animals,  be  they  fishes  or  reptiles,  I  hold  we 
have  at  least  a  feasible  and  rational  explanation  of  the  primary  fact  of  the  actual 
existence  of  such  organisms. ' 

In  a  most  interesting  lecture  on  'Zoological  Myths,' 
delivered  at  St.  George's  Hall,  January  2,  1881,  Dr.  Andrew 
Wilson  again  laid  much  stress  on  the  *  gigantic  de- 
velopment of  an  ordinary  marine  snake  into '  one  of  those 
amazing  individuals  which,  say,  at  the  very  least,  are  over  a 
hundred  feet  in  length  ! 

How  long  would  the  poison  fang  of  such  a  reptile  be  } 
How  many  ounces  of  venom  would  its  glands  contain  ?  Or 
does  the  Dr.  wish  us  to  understand  that  as  the  vertebrae 
of  a  Hydrophis  has  gradually  developed  into  the  complicated 
structure  of  a  constrictor,  so  has  the  poison-fang  become 
gradually  obsolete  t  Appalling,  indeed,  would  it  be  were 
those  enormous  developments  armed  with  poison-fangs ! 
Monarchs  of  the  deep  they  truly  would  be.  Happily, 
venomous  serpents  are  restricted  in  their  size  ;  but  an 
interesting  speculation  has  been  opened  in  the  above  theory 
of  abnormal  development,  and  I  trust  it  may  be  followed 
up  by  abler  reasoners    than    the    present    humble    writer. 


In  the  previous  chapter  the  distinguishing  characteristics 
of  the  true  marine  snakes  were  described,  and  I  feel  more 
disposed  to  agree  with  Dr.  Andrew  Wilson  when  he  says, 
*  or  for  the  matter  of  that,  in  the  existenee  of  elistinct  species  of 
monster  sea  serpents^  than  in  the  development  of  a  small 
venomous  one  into  an  amazing  constrictor.  Except  the 
'  monster.'  Why  should  not  the  gigantic  forms  be  perfect 
in  themselves,  with  an  inherited  anatomical  structure  ?  In 
volume  xviii.  of  Nature,  1878,  Dr.  Andrew  Wilson  again 
discusses  the  sea  serpent,  and  thus  concludes:  *.  .  .  and 
as  a  firm  believer  from  the  standpoint  of  zoology  that  the 
large  development  of  the  marine  ophidians  of  warmer  seas 
offers  the  true  explanation  of  the  sea-serpent  mystery.' 

Their  physical  constitution,  then,  as  well  as  structure,  must 
have  very  much  changed  to  enable  them  to  exist  so  far  from 
the  tropics. 

And  still  there  are  the  creatures  with  flippers,  and  flappers, 
and  fins  to  decide  upon.  And  then  the  gigantic  salamander 
with  a  hundred  and  fifty  feet  of  tail !  But  these  not  being 
ophidians,  and  certainly  not  'sea  serpents,'  must  not  intrude 
themselves  here. 

In  their  enormous  development  alone  the  supporters  of 
Darwin  may  justly  exult,  for  surely  in  them  we  shall  see 
'  the  survival  of  the  fittest.' 





FROM  the  peculiar  rattling  appendage  with  which  this 
snake  is  armed,  it  has  excited  the  notice  of  European 
explorers  since  the  very  first  settlement  of  the  American 
Continent.  Whenever  a  traveller  attempted  any  printed 
account  of  the  New  World  and  Its  products,  mention  was 
made  of  this  '  viper  with  the  bell.' 

By  and  by,  in  1762,  a  live  specimen  was  brought  to 
England,  where  it  arrested  the  attention  of  the  members  of 
the  Royal  Society  and  the  scientific  '  Chiruglons '  of  the  day. 

From  this  time  the  rattlesnake  began  to  be  honoured  with 
a  literature  of  its  own — one  which  equals  if  not  exceeds  in 
interest  that  of  any  other  ophidian  history  handed  down  to 
us ;  for  Cleopatra's  asp  has  its  literature,  and  the  Cobra 
capella,  and  M'Leod's  boa,  and  some  few  other  distinguished 
ophidians,  but  none  so  voluminous  and  Inexhaustible  as 
the  American  Crotahis  with  Its  sonorous  tail. 

And  despite  the  attention  of  naturalists  for  above  two 
hundred  years,  it  is  not  yet  done  with.     First  its  rattle,  then 



its  fangs,  next  its  maternal  affection  and  the  security  offered 
to  its  young  in  '  its  own  bosom/  then  its  *  pit,'  and  again  its 
rattle — each  and  all  in  turn  have  continued  to  occupy  the  pen 
of  zoologists  as,  with  the  advance  of  science,  fresh  light  has 
been  thrown  upon  ophiology. 

American   naturalists  have  continually  something  new  to 
tell    us    about   the    Crotalus,    and    not   even    yet  have  they 
■  decided  among  themselves  of  what  precise  use  that  remark- 
able rattle  is,  either  to  its  owner  or  its  auditors. 

The  various  theories  regarding  its  construction,  mode  of 
growth,  its  age  and  supposed  uses,  will  occupy  the  second 
part  of  the  present  subject  ;  other  rattlesnake  features  will 
come  in  their  places,  but  first  an  outline  of  what  the  early 
English  writers  had  to  say  about  it  will  not  be  devoid  of 

Natural  history  as  a  science  was  then  in  its  infancy. 
The  Royal  Society  of  England  had  as  yet  no  existence  ; 
snakes  were  *  insects,'  because  they  lay  eggs  ;  insects  were 
'  serpents,'  because  they  creep  ;  and  the  majority  of  all  such 
'  creeping  things '  were  '  venomous,'  of  course. 

In  those  early  days  of  science  there  was  little  or  no 
recognition  of  species,  two,  or  at  most  three,  different  kinds 
of  rattlesnakes  being  named.  The  distinguishing  rattle 
seemed  enough  to  separate  them  from  all  other  snakes  :  they 
were  *  the  vipers  with  the  bell,'  or  '  the  vipers  with  the 
sounding  tail.'  '  Vipers '  they  were  at  once  decided  to  be, 
conformably  with  the  old  idea  that  vipers,  in  distinction  to 
every  other  kind  of  snake,  produced  their  young  alive.  In 
this  respect  those  early  observers  were  correct  ;  and  from 
their  general  characteristics  they  are  still  vipers  in  the  eyes 

2  70  SNAKES. 

of  science :  that  is,  they  belong  to  the  sub-order  Viperina, 
though  their  dentition  more  than  any  other  feature  separates 
them  from  the  rest,  and  we  know  now  that  several  non- 
venomous  snakes  produce  live  young  as  well  as  the  vipers. 

In  appearance  the  rattlesnake  is  so  well  known  that  a 
minute  description  of  it  is  uncalled  for.  Throughout  the 
whole  genera  of  the  CrotalidcB  the  viperine  character  is  seen 
in  the  broad,  angular,  flattish  head  ;  the  thinner  neck,  distinct 
between  it  and  the  thicker  body;  a  short,  tapering  tail, 
and  a  generally  repulsive  appearance  with  an  evil  expression 
about  it,  as  if  no  further  warning  were  required  to  announce 
its  deadly  qualities. 

Nevertheless,  many  of  the  rattlesnakes  possess  an  un- 
deniably handsome  exterior.  Their  colours  are  for  the  most 
part  dark  and  rich,  relieved  with  lighter  markings  and 
velvety  black  ;  often  wearing  a  brilliant  prismatic  hue,  which 
still  further  enriches  their  tints.  And  then  the  rattle  at 
once  announces  the  name  of  its  owner. 

It  is  not  easy  to  decide  on  the  writer  or  traveller  from 
whom  we  get  the  first  mention  of  the  rattlesnake,  which  has 
an  extensive  geographical  range  on  both  the  American  con- 
tinents. It  was  undoubtedly  some  South  American  explorer 
early  in  the  sixteenth  century,  and  long  before  any  settlement 
in  the  New  World  had  been  made  by  the  English. 

In  a  rare  old  book,  the  first  edition  of  which  was  published 
in  London,  1614,  viz.  '  Samvel  Piirchas.  His  Pilgi^image  in 
all  Ages  ;  being  an  account  of  all  the  Places  discoiiered  since 
the  Creation  of  the  Worldl  we  hear  of  many  Spanish  and 
Portuguese  authors  who  are  but  little  known  in  England, 
and  from  each  and  all  of  whom  the  indefatigable  '  Pilgrim ' 

jRA  TTLE  SNAKE  HIST  OR  V.  271 

has  culled  information.  Indeed,  the  book  is  a  careful  com- 
pilation from  all  the  previous  writers  of  any  worth,  though 
those  only  who  mentioned  the  Brazilian  serpents  need  be 
here  introduced  to  the  reader.  These,  in  describing  some 
unchanging  peculiarities,  and  in  giving  us  the  vernacular 
names  then  common,  have  been  of  much  use  in  assisting 
subsequent  writers  to  identify  certain  species. 

Hakluyt,  Hernandez,  Master  Anthony  Kniuet,  and  many 
others  are  quoted  by  Purchas,  but  of  them  all,  '  No  man  hath 
written  so  absolute  a  Discourse  of  Brazil  as  was  taken  from 
a  Portugall  Frier  and  sold  to  Master  Hakluit,'  he  tells  us  ; 
giving  at  the  same  time  a  history  of  the  persecution  and 
imprisonment  of  this  unfortunate  friar,  whose  unusual 
intelligence  seems  to  have  rendered  him  an  object  of 
suspicion.  Thus  do  we  who  come  after  benefit  by  the 
misfortunes  of  our  predecessors,  and  thus  has  the  stolen 
'  Discourse '  of  the  sixteenth'century  been  turned  to  account 
for  our  edification  in  the  nineteenth. 

In  the  Portuguese  friar's  description  of  animals,  it  is  not 
difficult  to  separate  the  true  snakes  from  the  '  Serpentes  with 
foure  Legges  and  aTaile,'  or  to  identify  the  rattlesnakes  among 
them.  Says  the  writer,  '  The  Boycininga  is  a  Snake  called  of 
the  Bell :  it  is  of  a  great  Poison,  but  it  maketh  such  a  Noise 
with  a  Bell  it  hath  in  its  Tayle  that  it  catcheth  very  few : 
though  it  be  so  swift  that  they  call  it  the  flying  Snake.  His 
Length  is  twelve  or  thirteen  Spannes  long.  There  is  another 
Boycininpeba.  This  also  hath  a  Bell,  but  smaller.  It  is 
blacke  and  very  venomous.' 

These  two  may  be  Crotalus  horridus  and  Crotalus 
durissiiSy   the   two   commonest ;  or   they    may   be  only  one 

272  SNAKES. 

species  of  a  different  size,  age,  and  colouring — a  confusion 
which  frequently  occurs  with  even  more  recent  and  more 
scientific  worthies  than  the  good  '  Pilgrim'  Purchas.  In  a 
later  edition  he  says:  *  Other  Serpents  there  are  that  carrie 
vpon  the  Tippe  of  their  Tayle  a  certaine  little  roundelle, 
like  a  Bell,  which  ringeth  as  they  goe.' 

Marcgrave,  in  his  Travels  in  Brazil,  1648,  further  helps  us 
to  label  the  right  snake  with  the  long  vernaculars  by  figuring 
a  rattlesnake  and  calling  it  by  the  same  name,  only  with  an 
additional  syllable,  Boiciiiiniuga,  quein  Cascavcl,  the  latter 
euphonious  Spanish  word,  for  a  little  round  bell,  having 
widely  obtained  ever  since. 

As  soon  as  the  first  English  colony  was  settled  in  North 
America,  the  rattlesnake  again  comes  upon  the  stage. 
Captain  John  Smith,  whom  we  may  call  the  founder  of  Virginia 
(since  it  was  owing  to  his  good  judgment,  endurance,  and 
intelligence  that  the  colony  did  not  share  the  fate  of  Sir  W. 
Raleigh's  adventurers),  tells  us  of  the  ornaments  worn  by  the 
Indians,  and  the  favour  in  which  certain  Rattells  were  held 
by  them  as  amulets.  In  his  Gencrall  Historic  of  Vi7'gi?iia, 
162,2,  Captain  Smith  describes  their  barbarous  adornments, — 
birds'  claws,  serpent  skins,  feathers  with  a  '  rattell '  tied  on  to 
them,  which  '  Rattells  they  take  from  the  Taile  of  a  Snake,' 
and  regard  with  superstitious  veneration. 

With  the  spirit  of  enterprise  which  marked  that  era,  and 
the  discovery  of  new  countries  and  strange  creatures, 
'Natural  History'  began  to  be  a  recognised  science  in 
Europe.  Aldrovanus  and  Gesner  had  produced  their 
ponderous  tomes,  and  the  authors  quoted  by  Purchas  were 
eagerly   read    by    Ingenious    Chirugions,    who  in    England 


appear  to  have  taken  the  lead  in  science  ;  while  at  Florence 
an  assembly  of  '  Knowing  Physicians '  were  experimental- 
izing with  all  the  Vipers  procurable  in  Southern  Europe, 
holding  council  as  to  the  source  of  their  'Mischiefs'  and 
specific  '  Remedies  for  their  Bitings/  etc.,  with  just  such  tests 
with  the  '  Master  Teeth '  of  both  living  and  dead  vipers  as 
have  of  late  again  occupied  the  attention  of  living  scientists. 
In  1660  the  learned  Redi  of  Florence  published  his  book  on 
Vipers,  and  soon  after  M.  Moyse  Charas,  a  Frenchman, 
produced  a  work  which  would  not  be  a  bad  text-book  even  now. 

And  for  the  Scientific  World  what  greater  stimulus 
could  arise  than  the  foundation  of  the  ROYAL  SOCIETY  by 
Charles  IL,  and  the  channel  for  ventilating  discoveries  and 
inventions  which  their  published  Transactions  afforded?  Very 
early  in  these  do  we  find  that  viper  poison  was  engaging  profes- 
sional attention,  and  soon  did  communications  appear  from 
those  '  knowing  physicians '  at  Florence.  A  correspondence 
sprang  up  between  M.D.'s  of  England,  France,  and  Italy  ; 
and  the  details  of  their  experiments  proved  very  inciting  to 
the  members  of  the  Royal  Society  of  London,  who  with  the 
limited  subjects  at  their  disposal — virtually  only  our  own 
little  English  viper — also  set  themselves  to  work  to  analyze 
the  *  Poyson  Bag.' 

One  enthusiast,  Mr.  Piatt,  addressing  the    Royal  Society 

from  Florence,  with  an  account  of  some  of  the  experiments 

then  going  on,  made   mention  of  the   M.   Charas  who  had 

written  such  an  important  work,  and  ended  by  hoping  to 

animate  the  virtuosi  here  to  '  do  something  that  may  be  not 

unworthy  your  knowlege.'  ^ 

'  See  Philosophical  Transactions,  London,  1672. 


2  74  SNAKES. 

That  the  work  of  M.  Moyse  Charas  was  translated  into 
Enghsh  the  following  year,  proves  that  the  English  virtuosi 
bad  really  become  '  animated '  in  the  looked-for  direction.^ 

In  the  preface  of  his  book  we  read:  *If  Reflexion  be  made 
on  the  many  Wonders  that  are  found  in  the  Body  of  this 
Animal '  (the  viper),  *  it  will  be  easily  granted  that  it  cannot 
be  inquir'd  into  with  too  much  Exactness  :  and  that  it  is  not 
a  Work  that  can  be  finish't  at  one  or  two  Sittings.' 

This  little  digression  from  the  rattlesnake  is  not  without 
its  object ;  for  from  this  correspondence  through  the  Philo- 
sophical Transactions  we  may  date  the  birth  of  ophiological 
science  in  England  ;  and  the  reader  will  be  able  to  place 
himself  on  that  standpoint  in  order  to  reciprocate  the  kind 
of  interest  wath  which  such  an  entirely  strange  and  as  yet 
unknown  serpent  as  a  rattlesnake  was  received  a  short  time 

In  vol.  X.  1676,  there  is  'An  Account  of  Virginia,  its 
Situation,  Temperature,'  etc.,  communicated  by  Mr.  Thomas 
Glover,  '  an  ingenious  Chirugion  that  hath  lived  some  years  in 
the  Country.' 

This  gentleman  tells  us  of  the  climate  and  productions  of 
the  new  colony,  not  omitting  those  of  the  animal  and 
vegetable  kingdoms  ;  among  the  various  strange  creatures 
which  he  describes  in  the  crude  language  of  the  time  are 
five  or  six  sorts  of  snakes,  amongst  which  '  the  Rattlesnake 
is  the  most  remarkable,  being  about  the  bigness  of  a  Man's 
Legg,  and  for  the  most  part  a  yard  and  a  half  long.     He 

^  Nezv  Experiments  upon  Vipers,  ixnth  Exquisite  Remedies  that  may  be  draivn 
from  them :  as  well  as  Cure  for  their  Bitings,  as  for  that  of  other  Maladies.     By 
M.  Charas,  now  rendered  English,  1673. 


hath  a  Rattle  at  the  End  of  his  Tail,  wherewith  he  maketh 
a  Noise  when  any  one  approacheth  nigh  him  :  which  seemeth 
to  be  a  peculiar  Providence  of  God  to  warn  People  to  avoid 
the  Danger ;  for  this  Creature  is  so  venomous  that  the  Bite 
of  it  is  of  most  dangerous  Consequence,  unless  they  make 
use  of  the  proper  Antidote,  of  which  I  shall  take  occasion  to 
speak  somewhat  hereafter.' 

Such  accounts,  coupled  with  the  interest  awakened  -in 
the  members  of  the  Royal  Society  by  the  Florentine  ex- 
perimentalists, caused  the  first  arrival  of  a  rattlesnake  in 
England  to  be  a  grand  era  in  ophiological  annals ;  and 
with  its  eventful  appearance  began  its  scientific  history. 

The  published  records  of  the  PJiilosophical  Transactions 
again  perpetuate  the  impressions  it  created,  and  also  many 
collateral  points  of  interest. 

A  paper  entitled  Vipera  Catidisona  Americana ;  or,  The 
Anatomy  of  a  Rattle-Snake,  was  read  by  Dr.  Edward  Tyson, 
of  the  Royal  Medical  College  of  London,  in  1683  ;  who  dis- 
sected one  at  the  repository  of  the  Royal  Society  in  Jan. 
1682.  (The  above  scientific  name  is  erroneously  attributed 
to  Laurenti,  1768.) 

That  nothing  of  much  value  to  science  was  previously 
known  about  the  reptile  we  gather  from  Dr.  Tyson's 
introductory  words.  '  It  were  mightily  to  be  wisht  that  we 
had  the  most  compleat  account  of  so  Curious  an  Ajiinial. 
This  which  we  Dissected  was  sent  to  Mr.  Henry  Loades,  a 
merchant  in  London,  from  Virginia,  who  was  pleased  not 
only  to  gratify  the  Ctiriosity  of  the  Royal  Society,  in  showing 
it  them  alive,  but  likewise  gave  it  them  when  dead.' 

Thus  did  Mr.  Loades  unconsciously  immortalize  himself 

276  .  SNAKES. 

in  the  history  of  rattlesnakes.  Merchants  in  those  days  were 
not  F.Z.S.'s  ;  and  it  is  probable  that  he  thought  of  nothing 
beyond  ingratiating  himself  with  the  members  of  a  learned 
Society  by  presenting  them  with  a  'serpente'  dead,  whose 
'  Bell '  had  excited  their  curiosity  when  living ;  and  he  little 
dreamed  that  the  origin  and  use  of  this  strange  bell  would 
not  be  determined  two  hundred  years  afterwards. 

Says  Dr.  Tyson  :  '  I  find  the  inward  parts  so  conformable 
to  those  of  a  Viper  that  I  have  taken  the  liberty  of  placing 
it  in  that  Classe  and  (since  it  has  not  that  I  know  of  any  Latine 
Name)  of  giving  it  that  of  Vipej^a  Caudisoiia :  for  as  I  am 
informed  by  Merchants  'tis  Viviparous,  and  the  Epithet 
sufficiently  differences  it  from  those  that  have  no  Rattle.' 

This  scholarly  anatomist  had  evidently  devoted  much 
careful  labour  to  the  task  of  hunting  up  all  the  literature  that 
could  throw  any  light  on  his  much-prized  specimen.  He 
had  no  doubt  been  one  of  those  '  animated '  by  the  Florentine 
savants,  and  had  made  himself  acquainted  with  all  the  viperine 
characters.  He  had  doubtless  read  all  that  had  already 
appeared  in  the  Philosophical  Transactions,  and  also  the 
narratives  of  such  voyagcurs  as  Hakluyt,  Hernandez,  Piso, 
and  Marcgravius. 

Among  the  useful  results  of  his  researches  he  is  able  to 
give  us  many,  we  may  say  most,  of  its  vernaculars  in  the 
countries  of  the  New  World  settled  by  Europeans  up  to  that 
date  ;  and  as  in  subsequent  books  of  travel  we  hear  of  the 
rattlesnake  frequently  under  these  vernaculars,  until,  as  of 
later  years,  its  ordinary  English  name  has  been  familiar  to  all, 
we  have  had  a  good  deal  to  thank  him  for,  were  it  only  this. 
.  In  addition    to  the  authors    already  named,   he   gives  us 


Guliemus  Piso,  Johnston,  Merembergius,  and  *  others  that 
have  wrot  of  it,  and  its  anatomy,  under  the  names  of 
Boigininga  or  Boiginininga  and  Boiquira,  which  are  its  Brazile 
Names.  By  the  Portuguese  it  is  called  Casca  vela  and 
Tangador :  by  the  Dutch,  Raetel  Sclange ;  by  those  of 
Mexico,  Teutlaco-cauehqui  or  Teuhtlacotl  zauhqui,  i.e. 
Donima  Scrpenhim  :  and  from  its  swift  motion  on  the  Rocks 
like  the  wind,  Hoacoatl.* 

Minutely  and  scientifically  was  that  'viper  with  the 
sounding  tail'  dissected  and  studied  out  by  Dr.  Tyson  just 
two  hundred  years  ago  ;  and  the  excellent  illustrations  with 
which  his  description  was  elucidated  were  subsequently  used 
in  many  first-class  physiological  works. 

Not  even  the  '  pit '  escaped  the  notice  of  that  nice 
anatomist, — the  *  nasal  fosse,'  or  '  sort  of  second  nostril,'  as  it 
was  for  a  long  while  called, — and  its  use  conjectured,  and 
which  has  given  to  a  very  large  group  of  venomous  serpents 
the  name  of  '  pit  vipers,'  the  peculiar  orifice  not  being 
confined  to  the  American  Crotahis  alone  (see  chap.  xxi.). 

*  Between  the  nostrils  and  eyes  are  two  other  orifices  which 
at  first  I  took  to  be  Ears,'  he  tells  us,  speaking  of  this  *  pit,' 
'  but  after  found  they  only  led  into  a  Bone  that  had  a  pretty 
large  cavity,  but  no  perforation.'  He  had  seen  that  vipers 
— the  European  vipers  which  he  had  previously  known — 
had  not  these  orifices.  Then  he  comments  on  the  great  Pro- 
vision of  Nature  in  furnishing  the  strong,  smooth  '  belly  scales,' 
(see  illustration,  p.  193),  and  the  'very  long  trachea  of  20 
inches.  Nature  is  mightily  provident  in  supplying  them 
with  Air,  in  bestowing  on  them  so  large  a  Receptacle  for 
receiving  it.' 

2  78  SNAKES. 

Tyson  quotes  from  the  *  contests  between  the  noble  Italian 
Redi,  and  the  Frenchman  M.  Charas/  as  to  the  source  of  the 
poison  in  vipers,  and  makes  discoveries  for  himself,  as  for 
instance  the  mobility  of  the  jaw  in  elevating  and  depressing 
the  fang,  the  structure  of  the  teeth,  and  various  other 
matters  which  in  this  book  are  discussed  in  their  several 
chapters,  but  which  were  then  for  the  first  time  scientifically 
described  in  English  by  Tyson. 

True  that  a  little  traditional  gossip  about  the  rattle,  which 
he  had  gathered  from  less  competent  sources,  creeps  in  to- 
wards the  conclusion  of  the  paper.  While  the  learned  M.D. 
writes  from  his  own  observations  and  scientific  knowledge,  he 
affords  valuable  information  ;  and  we  can  dispense  with  the 
hearsay  of  the  day.  However,  all  honour  be  to  Dr.  Tyson  of 
two  hundred  years  ago,  who  was  the  first  to  give  us  '  The 
Anatomy  of  the  Rattlesnake,'  and  its  first  scientific  name. 

As  the  two  American  continents  became  more  widely 
known  to  Europeans,  and  Englishmen  were  seized  with  a 
desire  to  visit  the  new  colonies,  books  of  travels  and 
descriptions  multiplied  too  rapidly  for  even  a  passing  mention 
in  these  pages  ;  though  wherever  the  slightest  approach  to 
natural  history  was  included,  the  rattlesnake  figured 
conspicuously.  Of  those  works  frequently  quoted  by 
naturalists,  Seba's  Rerinn  Nattiraliiim  TJiesanri  in  1735, 
of  four  ponderous  volumes,  containing  text  in  both  Latin  and 
French,  and  profusely  illustrated,  must  not  be  omitted,  though 
about  the  Crotalus  he  has  not  much  new  to  tell  us.  He 
quotes  Tyson  and  others,  and  explains  that  the  many  nearly 
similar  names  are  ^  scion  la  difference  de  prononciation  des 
Bresiliens,  qiii  la  nomine  anssi  Boiqnh'a ;''  and  he  thinks  all 


these  names  *  iie  designent  qiiune  settle  et  meme  viph^e!  To 
these  various  titles  of  *  one  and  the  same  viper,'  we  shall 
refer  again  in  chap,  xxiii.  To  the  list  he  adds  that  the 
English  call  it  'rattlesnake;'  the  French,  'serpent  a  sonnettes ;  ' 
and  Latin  authors,  Angiiis  crotalopJiorus  (or  the  rattle-bearing 
snake).  He  also  gives  us  another  Mexican  name,  '  Ecacoatl, 
q?ii  signijie  le  Vent,  parceqn' clle  rampe  avec  nne  extreme  vitesse 
snr  les  rockers! 

This  extreme  activity  in  the  rattlesnake  is  not  in  accordance 
with  our  alien  experience.  Still  we  hear  of  it  from  more 
than  one  writer  and  in  widely  separated  habitats.  The 
Mexican  and  Brazilian  words  may  have  alluded  to  the  rapidity 
of  motion  in  striking  its  prey,  and  which  in  its  swiftness  can 
scarcely  be  followed.  Or  it  is  possible  that  the  reptile  which  as 
a  captive  in  our  chilling  climate  is  so  slow  and  sluggish,  may, 
when  stimulated  by  a  tropical  sun  and  under  peculiar  excite- 
ment, occasionally  exhibit  a  vivacity  incredible  to  us  who  see 
it  only  in  menageries.  Regarding  other  species  of  viperine 
snakes,  we  have  sometimes  similar  evidence  ;  and  there  is 
nothing  in  the  structure  of  the  Crotalus  to  contradict  it. 

One  more  of  the  unpronounceable  Mexican  names  we 
must  inflict  on  the  reader,  to  show  how  this  serpent  was 
distinguished  among  all  others  even  in  length  of  title.  F. 
Fernandez,  or  Hernandez,  in  his  Aninialiuni  Mcxicamun,  p.  63, 
A.D.  162S,  calls  it  Tcuchlacotzauhqui,  because  it  surpasses  all 
others  in  ' IJior'rible  bruit  de  sa  sonnette' 

As  may  be  supposed,  anybody  who  could  see  this  remark- 
able snake  on  its  native  soil  was  ready  to  tell  something 
about  it  ;  and  from  the  time  that  Dr.  Tyson  dissected  his 
specimen  and  made  it  better  known  to  the  '  Curious,'  many 

28o  SNAKES. 

other  communications  saw   light  through  the  pages  of  the 
Philosophical  Transactions  during  the  next  few  years. 

In  experimenting  to  discover  the  source  of  the  '  mischief,' 
one  skilful  '  Chyrurgeon '  proved  that  the  gall  of  vipers  is  not 
venomous,  only  bitter. 

A  Mr.  John  Clayton,  in  an  Account  of  tJie  Beasts  in  Virginia^ 
1694,  tells  us  the  rattlesnake's  'Tayle  is  composed  of  perished 
Joynts  like  a  dry  Husk.  The  Old  shake  and  shiver  these 
Rattles  with  v/onderful  Nimbleness;  the  Snake  is  a  Majestick 
sort  of  Creature,  and  will  scarce  meddle  with  anything  unless 
provoked.'  He  also  describes  the  '  fistulous  Teeth '  and  the 
poison  being  injected  through  these  '  into  the  very  mass  of 
the  blood.'  Effective  remedies  are  spoken  of,  as  if  not  much 
doubt  of  a  cure  existed.  An  Indian  was  bitten  in  the  arm, 
who  '  clapt  a  hot  burning  coal  thereon  and  singed  it  stoutly.' 

In  Italy  experiments  still  went  on,  and  a  Mr.  C.  J.  Sprengle 
wrote  to  the  Royal  Society  from  Milan  (1722),  that  in  a  room 
opened  at  the  top  were  sixty  vipers  from  all  parts  of  Italy. 
*  Whereupon  we  catch'd  some  mice  and  threw  them  in,  one 
at  a  time,  among  all  that  number  of  vipers  ;  but  not  one  con- 
cerned himself  about  the  mice,  only  one  pregnant  viper  who 
interchanged  eyes  with  the  mouse,  which  took  a  turn  or 
two,  giving  now  and  then  a  squeak,  and  then  ran  with  great 
swiftness  into  the  chops  of  the  viper,  where  it  gradually  sunk 
down  the  gullet*  And  from  this  sinister  proceeding  on  the 
part  of  the  viper,  Mr.  Sprengle  argues  a  fact  generally  borne 
out  in  zoological  collections  ever  since,  namely,  that  venomous 
snakes  in  captivity  will  not  eat  until  they  become  reconciled. 

And  so  by  degrees  these  many  interesting  ophiological 
facts  have  been  worked  out  and  established.     In   1733,  vol. 


xxxviii.,  some  experiments  made  by  Sir  Hans  Sloane  are 
recorded.  A  dog  was  made  to  tread  on  a  rattlesnake  which 
bit  him.  In  one  minute  of  time  the  dog  was  paralytic  in  the 
hinder  legs,  and  was  dead  in  less  than  three  minutes. 

Another  subject  of  subsequent  interest  and  even  importance 
was  some  observations  made  by  Sir  Hans  Sloane  on  the 
'  Charms,  Inchantments,  or  Fascinations  of  Snakes,'  in  reply 
to  communications  by  Paul  Dudley,  Esq.,  F.R.S.,  and  Col. 
Beverley,  both  of  whom  believed  that  the  rattlesnake  could 
bring  a  bird  or  a  squirrel  from  a  tree  into  their  mouths  by 
the  power  of  their  eye. 

A  word  on  fascination  will  come  in  its  place,  but  as  a  part 
of  rattlesnake  history  Sir  Hans  Sloane  may  be  quoted  here. 
And  yet  a  reason  so  long  ago  suggested  by  him,  who 
thoiLghtfiUly  watched  a  snake,  seems  almost  entirely  to  have 
escaped  notice.  He  thinks  '  the  whole  mystery  of  charming 
or  enchanting  any  Creature  is  simply  this.  Small  Animals 
or  Birds  bitten,  the  poison  allows  them  time  to  run  a  little 
way  (as  perhaps  a  bird  to  fly  up  into  a  tree),  where  the  snakes 
watch  them  with  great  earnestness,  till  they  fall  down,  when 
the  snakes  swallow  them.'  ^ 

Sir  Hans  Sloane  quotes  a  good  deal  from  the  work  by 
Colonel  Beverley,2  and  the  observations  made  by  him  ; 
particularly  one  which  the  author  remarks  is  a  'curiosity 
which  he  never  met  with  in  print,'  viz.  the  instinct  which 
displays  itself  so  strongly  after  death  in  the  rattlesnake.  A 
man  chopped  off  the  head  and  a  few  inches  of  the  neck  of  a 
rattlesnake,  and  then  on  touching  the  '  springing  teeth  with 

^  rhilosophical  Traiisactions^  vol.  xxxviii.  p.  321.      1733- 
2  History  of  Virginia,  1 722. 

2  82  .  SNAKES. 

a  stick,  the  head  gave  a  sudden  champ  with  its  mouth,'  thus 
displaying  the  impulse  to  bite.  He  noticed  the  action  of  the 
springing  teeth  '  when  they  are  raised,  which  I  take  to  be 
only  at  the  will  of  the  snake  to  do  mischief.'  Strange  to  tell, 
many  of  the  above  peculiarities  have  been  described  as  '  new 
to  science'  within  forty  years. 

But  among  those  who  wrote  of  our  American  colonies, 
Lawson  must  not  be  omitted.  Describing  the  '  Insects  of 
Carolina,'  viz.  alligators,  rattlesnakes,  water  snakes,  swamp 
snakes,  frogs,  great  loach,  lizards,  worms,  etc.,  he  tells  us 
what  was  then  new  about  the  subject  of  this  chapter. 

'  The  Rattlesnakes  are  found  on  all  the  Main  of  America 
that  I  ever  had  any  Account  of:  being  so  called  from  the 
Rattle  at  the  End  of  their  Tails,  which  is  a  Connexion  of 
jointed  Coverings  of  an  excrementitious  Matter,  betwixt  the 
Substance  of  a  Nail  and  a  Horn,  though  each  Tegmenf  is  very 
thin.  Nature  seems  to  have  designed  these  on  purpose  to 
give  Warning  of  such  an  approaching  Danger  as  the  venom- 
ous Bite  of  these  Snakes  is.  Some  of  them  grow  to  a  very 
great  Bigness,  as  six  Feet  in  Length  ;  their  Middle  being  the 
Thickness  of  the  Small  of  a  lusty  Man's  Leg.  They  are  of 
an  orange,  tawny,  and  blackish  Colour  on  the  Back,  differing 
(as  all  Snakes  do)  in  Colour  on  the  Belly  ;  being  of  an  Ash 
Colour  inclining  to  Lead.  The  Male  is  easily  distinguished 
from  the  Female  by  a  black  Velvet  Spot  on  his  Head  ;  and 
besides  his  Head  is  smaller-shaped  and  long.  Their  Bite  is 
venomous  if  not  speedily  remedied  ;  especially  if  the  Wound 
be  in  a  Vein,  Nerve,  Tendon,  or  Sinew,  when  it  is  very 
difficult  to  cure.  The  Indians  are  the  best  Physicians  for 
the  Bite  of  these,  and  all  other  venomous  Creatures  of  this 


Country.  The  Rattle-Snakes  are  accounted  the  peaceablest 
in  the  World,  for  they  never  attack  any  One  or  injure  them 
unless  trodden  upon  or  molested.  The  most  Danger  of  being 
bit  by  these  Snakes  is  for  those  that  survey  Land  in 
Carolina ;  yet  I  never  heard  of  any  Surveyor  that  was 
killed  or  hurt  by  them.  I  have  myself  gone  over  several  of 
this  Sort ;  yet  it  pleased  God  I  never  came  to  any  Harm. 
They  have  the  Power  or  Art  (I  know  not  which  to  call  it)  to 
charm  Squirrels,  Hares,  Partridges,  or  any  such  Thing,  in  such 
a  Manner  that  they  run  directly  into  their  Mouths.  This  I 
have  seen,'  and  so  forth.  .  .  '  Rattle-Snakes  have  many  small 
Teeth  of  which  I  cannot  see  they  make  any  Use  ;  for  they 
swallow  every  Thing  whole  ;  but  the  Teeth  which  poison  are 
only  four ;  two  on  each  side  of  their  Upper-Jaws.  These 
are  bent  like  a  Sickle,  and  hang  loose,  as  if  by  a  Joint. 
Towards  the  setting  on  of  these,  there  is  in  each  Tooth  a 
little  Hole,  wherein  you  may  just  get  in  the  Point  of  a  small 
Needle.  And  here  it  is  that  the  Poison  comes  out  and 
follows  the  Wound  made  by  the  Point  of  their  Teeth. 
They  are  much  more  venomous  in  the  Months  of  June  and 
July  than  they  are  in  March,  April,  or  September.  The 
hotter  the  Weather  the  more  poisonous.  Neither  may  we 
suppose  they  can  renew  their  Poison  as  oft  as  they  will  ;  for 
we  have  had  a  Person  bit  by  one  of  these  who  never  rightly 
recovered  it,  and  very  hardly  escaped  with  Life ;  and  a 
second  Person  bit  in  the  same  Place  by  the  same  Snake  and 
received  no  more  Harm  than  if  bitten  with  a  Rat.  They  cast 
their  Skins  every  Year  and  commonly  abide  in  the  Place 
where  the  old  Skin  lies.  These  cast  Skins  are  used  for 
Physick,  and  the  Rattles  are  reckoned  good  to  expedite  the 

284  SNAKES. 

Birth.'  .  .  '  Gall  mixed  with  Clay  and  made  into  Pills  are  kept 
for  Use  and  accounted  a  noble  Remedy.'  .  .  'This  Snake  has 
two  Nostrils  on  each  Side  its  Nose.  Their  Venom  I  have 
Reason  to  believe  effects  no  Harm  any  otherwise  than  when 
darted  into  the  Wound  by  the  Serpent's  Teeth.' 

This  description,  being  an  early  and  excellent  illustration 
of  what  has  since  been  termed  *  Practical  Natural  History/  is 
given  at  length,  and  because  Lawson  has  been  a  good  deal 
quoted  by  subsequent  writers. 

So  again  is  Catesby,  who  went  to  Virginia  in  17 12, 
staying  seven  years  '  to  gratify  a  passionate  desire  to  view 
animal  and  vegetable  productions  in  their  native  country.' 
He  was  the  first  to  figure  and  to  describe  two  distinct 
species.  It  is  admitted  that  he  did  much  for  natural  history, 
and  his  drawings  are  by  far  the  best  that  had  as  yet 
appeared.  Catesby  therefore  claims  a  conspicuous  place 
among  rattlesnake  historians. 

By  this  time,  173 1,  nine  or  ten  of  the  American  colonies 
had  celebrated  their  first  centenary,  and  had  made  consider- 
able advances  towards  civilisation.  In  the  parts  visited  by 
Catesby  a  good  deal  of  the  old  English  refinement  marked  the 
character  and  manners  of  the  people.  But  a  little  domestic 
incident  in  the  house  where  he  was  staying  is  related  by 
him,  and  affords  us  an  insight  of  a  less  attractive  character 
in  plantation  life. 

The  largest  rattlesnake  Catesby  ever  saw  was  eight  feet 
long,  and  weighed  eight  or  nine  pounds.  '  This  Monster  was 
gliding  into  the  House  of  Col.  Blake,  and  had  certainly  taken 
up  his  Abode  there  undiscovered,  had  not  the  Domestic 
Animals  alarmed  the  Family  with,  th^ir  repeated  Outcries  : 


the  Hogs,  Dogs,  and  Poultry  united  in  their  Hatred  to  him, 
showing  the  greatest  Consternation  by  erecting  their  Bristles 
and  Feathers,  and  showing  their  Wrath  and  Indignation 
surrounded  him  ;  but  carefully  kept  their  Distance,  while  he, 
regardless  of  their  Threats,  glided  slowly  along.' 

It  was  not  at  all  an  uncommon  occurrence  for  rattlesnakes 
to  come  into  houses  at  that  time,  nor  indeed  has  it  been  long 
since  then  in  secluded  parts. 

Catesby  himself  had  a  narrow  escape  once,  when  he 
occupied  a  room  on  the  ground  floor,  and  a  rattlesnake  was 
found  snugly  coiled  in  his  bed. 

Notwithstanding  a  growing  acquaintance  with  the  rattle- 
snake among  the  F.R.S.'s,  to  the  general  public  it  was  still 
almost  unknown. 

Even  in  the  middle  of  the  eighteenth  century  an  Itinerant 
exhibitor  could  say  what  he  pleased  about  It  to  a  too  credulous 
public.  An  extract  from  an  old  newspaper  suggests  an 
ancestral  Barnum  joining  hands  with  a  journalist  to  make  a 
fortune  out  of  one  thus  exhibited.  Not  so  much  was  expected 
of  journalists  in  those  days  ;  but  even  now,  so  far  as  snakes  are 
concerned,  a  vast  number  of  errors  creep  into  newspapers. 


'  This  exotic  Animal  is  extremely  well  worthy  the  Observation  of  the  Curious  : 
Its  Eyes  are  of  great  Lustre,  even  equal  to  that  of  a  Diamond,  and  its  Skin  so 
exquisitely  mottled  and  of  such  surpassing  Beauty  as  baffles  the  Art  of  the  most 
celebrated  Painter  :  It  is  about  five  Feet  long,  and  so  sagacious,  that  it  will 
rattle  whenever  the  Keeper  commands  it :  There  is  not  the  least  cause  for  Fear, 
though  it  were  at  Liberty  in  the  Room  :  but  that  the  Ladies  may  be  under  no 
Apprehension  on  that  Account,  it  is  kept  in  a  Glass-Case.  It  is  very  Active, 
and  is  the  first  ever  shown  alive  in  England.' — From  The  General  Advertiser^ 
London,  Sat.,  Jan.  4th,  1752. 

2  86  SNAKES. 

Any  '  sagacity'  displayed  in  this  exhibition  was  on  the 
part  of  the  keeper,  who  had  discovered  the  exceeding  timidity 
of  this  reptile,  and  had  observed  that  it  used  its  rattle  when- 
ever alarmed  or  provoked.  However,  the  timidity  answered 
very  well  for  obedience,  and  no  doubt  drew  many 

A  notable  feature  in  the  rattlesnake  was  its  fecundity 
and  prevalence. 

This  we  gather  from  all  who  in  the  early  days  of  American 
history  had  anything  to  tell  us  of  the  country  and  its 
inhabitants.  Whether  the  subject  of  their  pen  were  Topo- 
graphy, Indians,  or  Productions,  a  rattlesnake  crept  in. 
Collateral  evidence  of  this  kind,  given  with  no  motive  for 
exaggeration,  nor  even  as  '  natural  history,'  may  therefore 
be  accredited. 

A  slaughter  of  rattlesnakes  was  as  much  an  annual  custom 
as  the  slaughter  of  hogs.  Regularly  as  a  crop  of  hay  came 
a  crop  of  rattlesnakes.  On  account  of  the  oil  manufactured 
from  their  fat,  the  slaughter  partook  also  of  a  commercial 
character  ;  but  more  commonly  it  was  a  war  of  extinction, 
like  the  battles  with  the  Indians.  Usually  an  annual, 
frequently  a  biennial,  crusade  was  undertaken,  the  settlers 
being  well  acquainted  with  their  habits  and  retreats.  It 
was  a  well-known  fact  that,  towards  the  close  of  summer, 
and  on  the  first  indication  of  frost,  the  reptiles  returned 
simultaneously  and  in  vast  numbers  to  a  favourite  spot. 
Not  only  hundreds  but  thousands  make  for  this  winter 
rendezvous  year  after  year. 

Catlin,  the  Indian  historian,  tells  us  that  near  Wilkesbarre, 
in  Pennsylvania,  his  birth-place,  was  a  cavern  in  the  moun- 


tains  called  Rattlesnake  Den  ;  and  to  this  cavern  the  snakes 
made  an  annual  pilgrimage,  collecting  from  vast  distances, 
no  matter  what  obstacles  were  in  their  way.  Across  rivers 
and  lakes,  and  up  mountain  sides,  straight  to  their  Den  they 
would  go,  and  in  those  unapproachable  caverns  lie  en  masse 
in  a  torpid  state  until  aroused  by  the  coming  summer,  when 
they  would  venture  forth  again  and  descend  into  the  valleys. 

These  were  the  times  for  the  grand  battues,  one  of  which, 
an  event  of  Catlin's  boyhood,  is  narrated  by  him. 

One  of  the  first  spring  days,  when  the  creatures  creep 
out  to  sun  themselves  for  only  a  few  hours,  retiring 
again  at  night,  was  the  time  chosen  for  the  onslaught.  The 
snakes  were  known  to  come  forth  from  Rattlesnake  Den 
on  to  a  certain  ledge  of  rock  near  their  cavern  ;  and  a 
council  of  war  was  held  as  to  the  best  approach  and  mode 
of  attack.  Ten  years  previously  a  similar  war  had  been 
waged,  when  the  reptiles  had  been  almost  exterminated  ; 
but  of  late  so  many  accidents  had  occurred  among  the 
inhabitants  through  the  fast-increasing  serpents,  that  the 
farmers  agreed  to  climb  to  the  den  and  once  more  reduce 
their  numbers.  The  boy  Catlin  was  privileged  to  be  of 
the  party,  and  he  was  told  to  creep  cautiously  to  an 
overhanging  rock,  whence  he  could  see  the  reptiles  sunning 
themselves  on  their  ledge  below.  The  rest  of  the  party 
stood  in  readiness,  club  in  hand.  At  a  signal  young  Catlin 
fired  a  fowling-piece  into  their  midst.  There  was  a  knot 
of  them  '  like  a  huge  mat  wound  and  twisted  and  interlocked 
together,  with  all  their  heads  like  scores  of  hydras  standing 
up  from  the  mass.'  Into  this  horrible  cluster  he  'let  fly,' 
when  the  party,  rushing  with  their  clubs,  broke  the  spine  of 

288  SNAKES. 

hundreds  by  a  single  blow  to   each,  while  hundreds  more 
were  saving  themselves  by  a  quick  return  to  their  den. 

While  counting  the  five  or  six  hundred  slain,  and  holding 
another  council  of  war  on  the  battle-field,  a  rattle  was  heard 
of  one  which  in  the  death-struggle  had  escaped  over  a  ledge 
instead  of  into  its  cave.  With  a  forked  stick  a  man 
approached  that  misguided  reptile  and  held  down  its  head, 
while  another  brave  expert  seized  it  by  the  neck  so  close  to 
its  head  that  it  could  not  turn  and  bite  him. 

It  was  a  very  large  snake,  and  young  Catlin,  inspired  by 
the  sudden  thought,  exclaimed,  '  Tie  a  powder-horn  to  its 
tail  and  fasten  a  slow  fuse  to  it,  and  let  it  go  back  into  its 

'  George,  you  are  the  best  hunter  in  the  Valley  of 
Ocquago  ! '  cried  the  man  who  held  the  snake  ;  and  forth- 
with the  plan  v/as  agreed  upon. 

The  largest  powder-horn  in  the  party  was  filled  to  the 
brim  from  the  other  horns,  and  tied  to  the  snake's  tail  by  a 
string  of  several  feet  long ;  and  to  the  horn  was  fixed  a  slow 
fuse  of  about  a  yard  in  length,  made  of  wetted,  twisted 
tow,  in  which  gunpowder  was  rolled.  This  accomplished 
while  the  reptile  was  still  firmly  held,  it  was  then  set  free 
close  to  the  mouth  of  its  den,  the  whole  party  speedily 
escaping  to  a  safe  distance. 

Listening,  they  heard  the  horn  rattling  over  the  rocky 
floor  as  the  snake  was  carrying  it  home  into  the  midst  of  its 
comrades,  when,  after  the  silence  of  a  minute  or  so,  an 
explosion  like  a  clap  of  thunder  shook  the  ground  on  which 
they  stood,  and  blue  streams  issued  forth  between  the 
crevices  around  the  den,  and  a  thick  volume  from  its  mouth. 


Rattlesnake  Den  was  thus  cleared  of  its  inhabitants  for 
many  long  years. 

Catlin  affirms  that  the  Valley  of  the  Wyoming  used  to  be 
more  infested  with  these  terrible  pests  than  any  other  portion 
of  the  globe.  Every  summer  the  lives  of  persons  as  well  as 
cattle  were  destroyed  by  them,  and  the  'happy  little  valley  ' 
would  have  been  rendered  uninhabitable  but  for  the  peri- 
odical battues} 

Howe  in  his  Histories  of  Ohio  and  of  Virginia  relates 
many  similar  facts.  A  Mr.  Stone,  one  of  the  first  settlers  of 
the  '  Western  Reserve '  along  the  shore  of  Lake  Erie,  has 
immortalized  himself  as  a  slayer  of  rattlesnakes.  They  were 
'  in  great  plenty  along  the  track,'  and  he  being  the  first  to 
'survey'  the  land  in  1796,  had  the  honour  of  doing  battle 
with  them.  In  Trumbull  County  they  abounded.  One  year, 
about  the  first  of  May  1799,  a  large  party  armed  with 
cudgels  proceeded  to  a  sunny  level  of  rock  on  which  hosts 
of  the  reptiles  had  crept.  Approaching  cautiously,  step  by 
step,  the  enemy  came  upon  them  suddenly,  and  then  began 
to  cudgel  with  all  their  might.  Hot  and  furious  was  the 
fight ;  the  rattles  were  ringing  as  the  snakes  beat  a  retreat  up 
the  hill,  and  the  ground  was  strewed  with  the  slain  :  four 
hundred  and  eighty-six  were  that  day  collected,  most  of 
them  over  five  feet  in  length. 

In  another  of  these  spring  campaigns  eight  hundred  rattle- 
snakes were  killed,  including  a  few  of  their  relatives  the 
copper-head,  and  hundreds  more  of  harmless  snakes  of  which 
the  slayers  '  took  no  account.' 

Holbrooke  records  that  once  in  New  York  State  two  men 

1  Last  Ramblt's  among  the  Indians,  by  Geo.  Catlin.     London,  1S65. 


2  90  :  SNAKES, 

in  three  days  killed  1104  rattlesnakes  on  an  eastern  slope  of 
Tongue  mountain. 

Many  hairbreadth  escapes  during  these  adventures  form 
the  subjects  of  exciting  stories  in  the  domestic  annals  of 
American  settlers,  but  are  becoming  more  and  more 
histories  of  the  past  In  many  localities  where  formerly 
rattlesnakes  swarmed,  they  have  almost  totally  disappeared 
or  have  become  very  rare.  Probably  with  their  friends  the 
Indians,  they  will  in  time  become  wholly  extinct. 

New  species  have,  however,  been  discovered  by  the 
explorers  of  the  new  Western  States  and  in  Tropical  America, 
where,  in  the  sparsely-settled  districts,  they  still  come  into 
houses  as  of  yore,  and  where  the  rattlesnake  campaign  is  still 
an  annual  sport  for  the  venturesome  pioneers.  In  1872,  two 
thousand  of  the  species  Crotaliis  confliieJitiis  were  killed  in  the 
Yellowstone  Region. 

One  other  question  in  the  history  of  the  rattlesnake — 
'Does  it  swallow  its  young  in  times  of  danger?'  or  more 
correctly  speaking,  *  Does  it  receive  its  young  into  its 
oesophagus  as  a  place  of  safety.'*' — is  considered  in  chap, 

Other  discussions  of  modern  times,  both  in  assemblies  of 
zoologists  and  through  printed  correspondence,  have  been  on 
the  rattle,  when  and  why  vibrated,  how  affected  by  damp, 
etc.,  all  claiming  a  place  in  rattlesnake  history,  but  con- 
sidered elsewhere  in  this  work.  A  whole  volume  might  be 
written  on  this  rattling  tail,  evolved  out  of  the  scant  materials 
of  the  sixteenth  century  into  the  prolific  matter  of  the 
nineteenth.  You  can  scarcely  take  up  one  of  the  many 
scientific  journals  of  the  United  States,  in  which  zoology  forms 

J^A  TTLE  SNAKE  HIS  TOR  V,  291 

a  part,  without  finding  mention  of  a  rattlesnake.  Within  a 
very  few  years  the  subject  has  been  popularized  In  our  own 
zoological  journals  also. 

In  connection  with  the  venom  come  of  course  the  cures, 
concerning  which  the  experiments  of  Dr.  Weir  Mitchell 
form  a  notable  point  in  rattlesnake  history.  But  serpent 
venom  and  its  remedies,  so  far  as  lies  within  my  province 
to  discuss  them,  come  also  in  a  special  chapter. 

In  concluding  this  one,  I  will  roughly  enumerate  the  species 
of  rattlesnakes  now  best  known.  We  have  seen  that  formerly 
only  one  or  two  different  kinds  were  noticed,  and  the  sub- 
sequent multiplication  of  species  is  due  almost  as  much  to 
science  and  to  a  more  careful  observation  of  the  distinguishing 
features,  as  to  the  discovery  of  absolutely  new  ones. 

The  frequent  ExplorlngExpeditions  fitted  out  by  the  United 
States  Government  for  Geographical  Boundaries,  Pacific 
Railroads,  Geological  Surveys,  etc.,  with  always  a  zoologist 
on  their  Staff  of  Scientific  Men,  have  added  much  to  our 
knowledge  of  natural  history ;  and  in  the  Reports  and 
Bulletins  of  these  may  be  sifted  out  information  in  every 
branch  of  Science.  Thus  in  Crotahis  chronicles,  our  two 
original  rattlesnakes  have  increased  and  are  still  increasing. 
In  1 83 1,  the  late  Dr.  J.  E.  Gray,  of  the  British  Museum 
Natural  History  Department,  enumerated  six  genera  and 
eleven  species  belonging  to  America.  In  i860.  Dr.  Weir 
Mitchell  gave  about  twenty  species  as  belonging  to  two 
genera  only,  and  distinguished  by  their  head  scales. 

As  this  book  has  no  scientific  pretensions,  and  as  Its  aim 
is  rather  to  interest  a  large  class  of  readers  than  systematically 
to  instruct  the  few,  I  will  not  attempt  a  list  of  genera  and 

292  SNAKES. 

species  with  all  their  perplexing  names,  if  indeed  a  true  list 
of  all  the  now  known  species  even  exist.  They  are  dis- 
tinguished by  the  shields  or  plates  on  the  head,  and  by  the 
varying  tails.  Some  have  rattles  so  small  as  barely  to 
entitle  them  to  the  name  of  Crotalus. 

Then,  again,  a  new  name  is  frequently  adopted  by  the 
discoverer  of  a  new  feature  ;  and  a  number  of  American 
genera,  minus  a  rattle  altogether,  are  included  among  the 
CrotalidcEy  an  anomaly  which  will  be  presently  explained. 
Here  we  have  to  do  with  only  the  rattlesnake  proper,  viz.  the 
'  Viper  with  the  Bell,'  Vipera  caitdisona  of  Tyson,  and  the 
Crotahis  of  Linnaeus. 

This  word  Crotahis,  simply  a  rattle,  from  the  Greek  word 
crotalo7t,  and  the  Latin  crotalia  and  C7'otalurn,  a  kind  of 
castanets,  is  as  suitable  as  any  that  could  possibly  have 
been  assigned  to  the  snake  ;  and  most  of  the  generic  names 
are  compounds  of  it :  Crotalophoriis,  rattle-bearing  ;  Crotaliiia, 
little  rattle;  Crotaloidce ;  Urocrotalon,  rattling  tail;  or 
simply  Crotahcs.  Then  the  specific  name  more  especially 
describes  the  snake  in  colour,  size,  character,  locality,  etc.,  as 
Oregomts,  from  Oregon  ;  Kii'tlaiidii,  from  Dr.  Kirtland  of 
Ohio,  who  first  described  that  species  ;  Jiorridtis,  from  the 
hideous,  terrible  character  of  this  large  snake  ;  miliarius,  a 
very  small  one  ;  caudisona,  sounding  tail  ;  and  so  on. 

Their  geographical  range  is  from  about  45°  north,  to  the 
Gulf  of  Mexico,  Texas,  and  southward;  and  in  South  America 
to  about  the  same  degree  of  climate  and  temperature  as  in 
the  northern  latitudes.  They  are  most  virulent  in  the 
hottest  seasons,  the  tropical  regions,  and  according  to  their 
size  ;  though,  as  is  the  case  with  other  venomous  snakes,  a 


small  species  in  hot  weather  and  with  a  large  store  of  venom 
may  be  more  noxious  than  the  largest  in  a  half-torpid  state 
and  with  a  small  supply  of  venom. 

There  is  one  known  as  the  '  Prairie  rattlesnake  ; '  another 
frequents  the  marshy  districts  of  Ohio  ;  another,  the  swamps 
of  the  Southern  States  along  the  coast ;  a  fourth  is  known  as 
the  '  Western  rattlesnake  ; '  some  of  the  20  species  described 
in  the  United  States  being  more  abundant  in  the 
mountainous  regions,  others  near  the  rivers. 

In  the  wilder  regions  of  Central  and  South  America  they 
also  abound  ;  but  less  is  known  of  them  where  there  are  no 
United  States  Exploring  Expeditions  to  record  them. 





THIS  Crepitaadum  caude,  as  an  American  has  called 
it,  has  been  the  theme  of  many  speculations.  Its 
origin  and  its  use  have  been  discussed  alike  by  the  scientific 
and  the  unscientific,  nor  have  they  even  now  arrived  at 
any  very  definite  conclusions  on  these  two  points.  There 
are  theories  as  to  its  development,  its  form  and  size,  its  age 
and  its  utility,  the  caprice  witnessed  in  all  of  these  adding 
to  the  romance  of  its  history ;  and  whether  its  length 
increases  by  a  link  annually,  or  on  each  occasion  of 
desquamation,  have  been  among  the  questions  connected 
with  it.  If  we  believe  what  the  American  Indians  declare, 
an  additional  joint  to  the  rattle  grows  whenever  a  human 
being  falls  a  victim  to  that  particular  snake — a  tradition 
more  poetical  than  rational.  The  Indians  also  think  the 
rattle  vibrates  more  in  dry  than  in  wet  weather,  and  are 
therefore  cautious  in  traversing  the  woods  during  rainy 
seasons.  This  belief  has  given  rise  to  the  idea  that  the 
rattle  is   affected   by  damp — a  fact  which  was   affirmed   so 


THE  RATTLE.  295 

long  ago  as  1722.^  The  most  reasonable  clue  to  this  is, 
that  there  may  be  less  to  disturb  the  reptile  at  a  time  when 
all  animated  nature  is  to  a  certain  extent  inclined  to 
retirement  and  repose  ;  for  if  the  reptile  be  disturbed,  rain 
or  no  rain,  the  rattle  vibrates.  In  English  as  well  as  in 
American  scientific  journals,  the  subject  of  the  rattle  is  ever 
and  again  ventilated  by  physiologists,  and  new  suggestions 
are  thrown  out.  In  the  present  chapter  I  will  endeavour  to 
give  a  sort  of  digest  of  all  these  theories,  venturing  to  offer 
in  addition  the  results  of  my  own  observations.  Appended 
is  a  drawing  of  the  first  rattle  I  ever  saw  or  had  in  my 
possession.  It  is  associated  with  a  delightful  visit  of 
several  months  to  some  very  dear  friends  in  Iowa,  and  it 
recalls  more  particularly  one  lovely  September  afternoon. 
We  were  driving  along  a  wild  country  road,  where  the 
prairie  on  either  side  was  radiant  with  its  floral  carpet,  and 
where  the  Mississippi  gleamed  like  a  succession  of  lakes 
between  the  wooded  and  picturesque  bluffs  that  formed  the 
background  to  the  east. 

Suddenly  the  horses  refused  to  advance,  and  without 
any  visible  reason  to  me ;  but  the  friend  who  was  driving 
us  recognised,  in  what  seemed  to  be  merely  a  little  dry  twig 
in  the  middle  of  the  road,  nothing  less  than  a  young  rattle- 

Now,  to  see  a  rattlesnake  and  to  hear  its  rattle  had  been 
the  great  ambition  of  my  prairie  sojourn,  and  as  my  friend 
threw  the  reins  to  his  wife  and  alighted  to  deal  a  death- 
blow, I  entreated   him   to   spare  it  for  a  few  minutes  only 

1  See  Philosophical  Transactions,  vol.  xxxii.    A  paper  on  the  Crotalus,  by  Paul 
Dudley,  Esq. 



that  I  might  examine  and  hear  the  as  yet  unfamiliar 

Alas  !  the  creature  had  no  rattle.  '  It  is  too  young  :  there 
is  only  the  button'  as  my  friend  called  the  rudimentary 
promise  of  one.  I  profited  by  the  occasion,  however,  to 
have  a  good  though  disappointed  look,  not  unmixed  with 
contempt,  at  the  juvenile  Crotalus,  being  so  very  small  and 
unworthy  the  ceremony.  A  foot  or  so  in  length,  it  began 
to  make  its  escape  into  the  long  grass,  when  by  one  quick 
stamp  of  his  heel  our  champion  disabled  it. 

Then,  throwing  it  into  a  pool  of  water,  he  remounted,  and 
the  horses  fearlessly  proceeded. 

A    few    days  after  this,    to 

A  fully  developed  rattle  of  a  rather  small 
snake  (life  size). 

compensate  my  disappoint- 
ment, I  was  presented  with 
a  '  full  -  grown  rattle  '  from  a 
Kentucky  snake,  and  here  it  is. 

Asking  how  he  knew  it  was  *  full  grown,'  my  friend 
explained  that  the  links  being  all  of  a  nearly  uniform  size, 
proved  that  the  snake  had  also  attained  a  certain  growth 
during  the  development  of  that  rattle.  This  will  be  more 
readily  comprehended  on  seeing  the  next  specimen,  which 
is  the  rattle  of  a  Mexican  snake  during  early  and  rapid 
growth,  and  a  very  perfect 
one,  presenting  no  flaw  or 
friction  ;  proving  that  it  has 
not  been  subject  to  very  long 

or  very  rough  usage.  a  very  perfect  rattle  (natural  size). 

In  texture  this  is  scarcely  so  stout  as  the  shaft  of  a  quill, 
nor  so  pale,  but  almost  as  transparent.     As  regards  size,  the 



terminal  link  or  'button'  may  be  compared  to  the  nail  of 
a  young  child,  the  intermediate  links  gradually  increasing 
with  the  growth  of  the  snake  to  the  nails  of  older  children, 
and  the  largest  link  to  that  of  a  full-grown  person.  From 
the  form  of  this  rattle — an  accurate  copy  of  the  original — 
we  may  infer  that  it  grew  rapidly  at  first,  and  that  the 
snake  was  large  during  the  development  of  the  later  links. 

The  next,  reduced  in  size,  is  the  rattle  of  a  snake  which 
had  attained  full  growth,  but  from  which  the  younger  or 
earlier  links  wnth  the  terminal  '  button  '  are  gone. 

Portion  of  a  long  rattle,  much  reduced  in  size. 

Extending  this  specimen  by  imaginary  converging  lines, 
we  form  an  idea  of  what  its  length  might  have  been  if 
perfect,  probably  about  twenty  joints,  which  is  a  not  unusual 
number  ;  but  we  perceive  at  once  that  a  rattle,  as  we  happen 
to  see  it,  is  no  criterion  of  its  age  or  its  original  form. 
Rarely  is  a  snake  seen  with  a  long  rattle  perfect  and  entire. 
But  whenever  it  gradually  tapers  and  ends  wdth  the  pointed 
terminal  link,  we  may  decide  that  that  rattle  has  escaped 
injury  from  its  earliest  development. 

In  form  it  is  not  unsymmetrical,  and  in  substance  it  is 
horny,  like  hair,  nails,  quills,  and  hardened  skin,  a  sort  of 
dense  and  corneous  integument,  yet  less  solid  than  horns  and 
claws.  The  links,  being  only  interlocked  and  yet  elastic,  can 
be  easily  separated,  and  are  consequently  easily  injured.  An 
animal  treading  on    the    rattle  of  a   snake    would    cause   a 

298  SNAKES, 

portion  at  least  to  be  lost ;  or  in  being  drawn  among  roots 
and  entangled  vegetation,  a  rattle  might  easily  get  damaged  : 
the  number  of  links  can  never,  therefore,  be  an  infallible  clue 
to  the  age  of  the  reptile. 

Like  hair,  horns,  nails,  it  is  also  subject  to  a  caprice  in 
growth,  or  to  the  vigour  of  the  individual  ;  at  one  time 
comparatively  at  a  stand-still,  at  another  growing  rapidly  ; 
in  one  season  gaining  perhaps  several  links,  in  another 
season  none. 

Neither  does  the  number  of  joints  bear  any  relation  to  the 
casting  of  the  skin,  any  more  than  the  growth  of  hair  or  nails 
depends  on  the  healing  of  a  scar.  The  slough,  cast  more  or 
less  frequently,  may  leave  the  rattle  intact,  or  a  new  link 
may  appear  at  such  a  time.  Dr.  Cotton,  of  Tennessee, 
had  a  rattlesnake  which  shed  its  skin  on  an  average  twice 
a  year,  and  he  observed  a  new  link  to  the  rattle  on  each 
shedding.  On  the  contrary,  a  rattlesnake  at  the  London 
Zoological  Gardens,  and  in  the  collection  for  about  ten  years, 
had  never  a  rattle  worth  mentioning.  Quite  a  young  snake 
of  only  1 5  inches  when  brought,  it  grew  into  a  fine  healthy 
specimen,  fully  five  feet  long,  and  yet  had  never  more  than 
what  Americans  call  the  button — not  quite  even  that,  but 
merely  an  abortive  pretence  of  unhealthy  growth,  as  if  one 
or  two  links  were  consolidated.  I  watched  that  rattle  for 
several  years  with  much  interest.  Thus  it  was  when  my 
attention  was  first  drawn  towards  it ;  and 
though  it  sometimes  gave  promise  of  growing, 
and  once  did  indeed  gain  another  link,  it  soon 
got  broken  off,  and  never  attained  more  than 

All  there  was  of  it ! 

three  misshapen  joints.  From  Ufe. 


""  ""'^'Sv 

Cr.       . 



""''''I'lJ-'UDllllillP  J 

THE  RATTLE.  299 

Though  no  rattle  is  ordinarily  developed  until  the  snake- 
ling  is  some  months  old,  several  cases  are  on  record  where 
young  snakes  have  been  born  with  the  '  button/  and  even 
with  perfectly  formed  links.  Mr.  Benjamin  Smith  Barton,  an 
American  who  wrote  a  good  deal  about  the  Crotalus, 
communicated  to  Prof.  Zimmermann  in  1800  that  he  had 
found  in  a  parent  some  young  ones  with  three  rattles,  i.e. 
*  links,'  each.     Similar  and  more  recent  cases  are  on  record. 

In  colour  a  rattle  is  of  a  dark  brown,  or  dull  rusty  black, 
occasionally  lighter  when  fresh  and  uninjured, 
and  then  more  plainly  displaying  its  horny  tex- 
ture. In  the  Mexican  rattle  (p.  296)  the  links 
were  semi-transparent;  sufficiently  so  to  enable 
us  to  trace  the  form  of  the  interior  links  if  held 
against  the  light.  This  afforded  an  admirable 
opportunity  to  comprehend  the  structure  and 
the  production  of  the  sound,  which  is  simply 
and  truly  a  rattling  of  these  loosely-fitting  links 
as  they  are  partially  embraced,  each  one  by  the  Transparent  ratiie  (p. 

•^  -^  -^  ''  296),  held  against 

previous  link.  That  is  to  say,  each  new  link  the  light. 
grows  up  into  its  predecessor,  pushing  it  forward  towards 
the  tip  of  the  rattle.  Through  this  unusually  clear  rattle  you 
can  trace  each  link  passing  up  and  fitting  into  the  preceding 
(prior)  one,  just  as  so  many  thimbles  or  cups  would  fit  into 
each  other.  Only,  in  the  case  of  thimbles  or  cups,  there  is 
nothing  to  keep  them  in  place,  and  the  slightest  shake  would 
detach  the  whole  pile  ;  whereas  the  lobes  or  bulging  sections 
of  each  link  prevent  any  such  detachment  in  a  rattle, 
except  by  force  or  accident. 

The  next  is  the  rattle  of  a  small  Oregon  snake.      This, 



as  is  observable,  is  old  and  very  much  worn  ; 
so  much  so,  indeed,  that  one  has  to  handle  it  with 
care.  It  is,  however,  pulled  apart  intentionally  to 
show  that  the  links  vary  in  form  from  those  of 
the  tapering  specimen.  Any  rattle  can  thus  be 
separated  without  much  effort,  as,  owing  to 
the    elasticity  of   the    substance,    not    much    re- 

Small  divided 

sistance     presents     itself       The    links     are    just       ''''"•^• 
loose  enough  to  produce  that  sibilant  effect,   like  the  rust- 
ling of  dry  leaves,  or  of  ripe  beans  in   a  pod  ;  or  still  more, 
like  the  seed  vessel  of  our  own  native  plant  the 
Yellow  Rattle,  RJiinanthiis  Crista  galli,  and  the 
American  '  Rattle-Box,'  Crotalaria  sagittalis. 

Yet  just  so  securely  fitting  it  is  as  to  permit 
of  the  continual  vibration  without  loss  of  links. 

What  we  see^  therefore,  is  only  the  base  or 
lower  lobe  of  each  joint,  the  rest  running  up 
into  the  next  two  or  even  three  bases,  as  may 
be  traced  in  the  section  here  given. 

In  reading  about  the  construction  of  a  rattle, 
some  perplexity  may  occur  from  the  various 
adverbs  before,  behind,  first,  last,  previous  link? 
etc.,  some  referring  to  age,  others  to  place,  section  of  rattle. 
Descriptions  of  the  rattle  met  with  in  popular  physiological 
works  prove  the  above  perplexities,  and  verify  w^hat 
is  so  often  demonstrated,  viz.  the  '  inability  of  unscientific 
persons  to  read  scientific  matter  correctly.'  The  '  last '  link 
means  the  one  last  grown,  not  the  end  one  of  the  tail  ; 
'pushing  the  preceding  one  forzvard'  is  not  towards  the 
Jiead  of   the    reptile,    but    literally   oittivard  and    backward 

THE  RATTLE.  301 

towards  the  tip  of  the  tail.  '  Previous '  may  mean  in  time, 
or  the  age  of  the  link,  or  it  may  mean  position  ;  but  a 
knowledge  of  the  development  assists  the  comprehension 
of  such  passages. 

In  the  above  illustrations  it  will  be  seen  that  not  only 
do  rattles  differ  in  form  in  various  species  of  snakes,  but 
that  the  links  themselves  differ  in  form  in  one  and  the  same 
rattle.  Some  of  them  are  broader  than  others,  some  wider, 
and  some  more  compressed.  In  all  the  above  drawings 
I  carefully  and  faithfully  copied  the  originals.  And  in  this 
variability  we  can  only  refer  again  to  claws,  nails,  horns, 
feathers,  etc.,  which  are  seen  to  differ  in  the  same  individual, 
according  to  health,  season,  or  accident. 

Where  great  numbers  of  rattlesnakes  have  been  killed 
in  one  locality,  as,  for  instance,  during  the  '  spring  campaigns,' 
their  tails  have  presented  on  an  average  from  fifteen  to 
twenty  links  each.  Holbrooke  ^  has  seen  one  of  twenty-one 
links.  A  Crotalus  at  the  London  Reptilium  had  twenty-five 
links  at  one  time  ;  then  ten  of  them  got  broken  off,  but  still 
a  respectably-sized  rattle  remained.  The  longer  the  rattle, 
the  greater  the  risk  of  injury.  Oliver  Wendell  Holmes,  in 
his  wonderful  story  Elsie  Vernier,  states  that  a  snake  in  the 
locality  where  the  Rocklands  *  Rattlesnake  Den '  existed, 
had  forty  joints  in  its  rattle,  and  was  supposed,  after  Indian 
traditions,  to  have  killed  forty  people.  He  tells  us  that  the 
inhabitants  of  those  parts  were  remarkable  for  acute  hearing 
even  in  old  age,  from  the  practice  of  keeping  their  ears  open 
for  the  sound  of  the  rattle  whenever  they  were  walking 
through  grass  or  in  the  woods.     And  whenever  they  heard 

1  Nojih  American  Hcrpetology,  vol.  iii.  p.  15.      By  J.  E.  Holbrooke.      1842. 

30  2  SNAKES. 

the  rattling  of  a  dry  bean-pod,  they  would  exclaim,  *  Lord, 
have  mercy  upon  us ! '  the  sound  so  strongly  resembling 
that  of  the  dreaded  Crotalus. 

Another  American  naturalist  records  a  snake  with  forty- 
four  links  to  its  rattle,  but  adds  that  this  occurrence  is  rare 
and  *a  great  curiosity.'  So  one  would  imagine,  and  that 
the  fortunate  possessor  of  such  an  ensign  must  have  flourished 
in  smooth  places.  More  favoured  still  was  a  snake  mentioned 
in  the  vol.  of  the  Philosophical  Transactions  just  now  quoted, 
and  in  which  Paul  Dudley  had  '  heard  it  attested  by  a  Man  of 
Credit  that  he  had  killed  a  Rattlesnake  that  had  between  70 
and  80  Rattles  {i.e.  links),  and  with  a  sprinkling  of  grey 
Hairs,  like  Bristles,  all  over  its  Body.'  As  this  venerable 
Crotalus  must  have  rusticated  nearly  two  hundred  years  ago, 
we  must  accept  the  tale  or  tail  with  caution. 

The  family  of  the  Crotalidce,  it  will  be  borne  in  mind, 
embraces  a  large  number  of  serpents  with  only  a  rudimentary 
rattle  ;  a  number  with  only  the  horny  spine  (see 
p.  176)  ;  and  a  few  with  a  rattle  so  small  even  when 
fully  developed,  that  they  are  received  into  the  family 
by  courtesy  rather  than  by  their  *  sounding  tail.' 

A  small   snake  with  this   pretence  of  a   rattle   is 
dangerous  because  it  is  so  indistinctly  heard. 

This  is  also  the  case  with  Ci^otalns  viiliaiHus, 
whose  rattle  is  so  feeble  as  to  be  scarcely  audible 
a  few  feet  off. 

So  much  for  the  size  of  rattles.  Now  for  the 
development  of  them. 

The  theory  that  the  rattle  Is  the  remains  of  cast-off  cuticle, 
as  some  herpetologists  have  supposed,  may  be  dismissed  at 

THE  RATTLE,  305 

once ;  for  what  would  cause  such  vestiges  to  harden  into  a 
compHcated  and  symmetrical  form  ? 

To  Dumeril  we  owe  some  of  our  best  conceptions  of  the 
growth  of  the  rattle,  which,  whether  it  has  or  has  not  been 
evolved  from  the  mere  horny  spine  that  terminates  the  tails 
of  so  many  snakes,  has  certainly  nozv  an  express  provision  for 
its  production. 

Like  hair,  claws,  or  nails,  the  rattle  is  horny  matter  excreted 
and  hardened.  In  his  Elementary  Lessons  in  Physiology, 
Prof  Huxley  shows  us  how  in  the  growth  of  a  nail  new 
epidermic  cells  are  added  to  the  base,  constraining  it  to  move 
forward.  '  The  nail,  thus  constantly  receiving  additions  from 
below  and  from  behind,  slides  forward  over  its  bed  and 
projects  beyond  the  end  of  the  finger.'  If  the  reader  will 
look  at  his  finger  nail,  and  suppose  the  end  bone  of  the 
Crotalus  spine  to  be  the  *  bed'  of  the  nail,  he  will  to  a  certain 
extent  be  able  to  comprehend  how  the  rattle  grows  out ;  but 
that  the  links  become  detached  in  succession  is  a  phenome- 
non so  astonishing  and  at  the  same  time  so  difficult  to 
comprehend,  that  few  naturalists  have  ventured  to  state 
positively  how  this  occurs.  Conjecturally  only  and  diffi- 
dently do  I,  therefore,  presume  to  offer  a  supposition  ;  and  if 
my  readers  will  once  more  pardon  reference  to  human  nails, 
and  lend  the  aid  of  their  imagination,  they  may  be  able  to 
evolve  a  true  theory  out  of  my  crude  idea. 

The  young  readers  of  Annt  Judys  Magazine  were  also,  a 
few  years  ago,  ^  invited  to  lend  the  aid  of  their  pink  little 
finger  nails   to   the   illustrative    development  of  a  supposed 

1   'The  History  of  a  Rattle,'  by  Catherine  C.  Hopley,  Aunt  Jtidy  s  Magazine, 
July  1877. 

304  SNAKES. 

rattle  ;  and  we  will  again  imagine  the  whole  tip  of  a  finger 
to  be  covered  with  a  round  nail-cap,  proceeding  from  the 
first  joint,  and  to  have  grown  so  from  birth.  In  growing  out, 
this  curious,  cup-like  nail,  being  never  cut,  would  become 
hollow  like  a  thimble.  Pointed  or  tapering  it  would  of 
course  be,  because,  as  the  baby  finger  grew,  the  base  or  new 
portion  of  nail  grew  larger  with  it.  We  will  also  suppose 
that  the  joint  whence  the  nail  sprang  was  in  constant 
activity,  and  so  articulated  that  it  could  move  with  a  quick 
and  regular  action  or  vibration  ;  the  hollow  nail-cap,  having 
attained  a  certain  size,  would  become  withered,  and  (as  the 
constant  bending  of  a  piece  of  card  or  metal  in  time  divides 
it)  would  be  worn,  and  at  length  detached  at  its  base. 
Meanwhile  the  growth  of  nail  has  not  been  arrested,  but  a 
new  cap  is  forming  within.  The  old,  dry,  and  withered  cap 
has  now  nothing  to  retain  it,  and  would  drop  off,  on  account 
of  its  simple,  conical  form,  like  a  loose-fitting  thimble.  But 
Dumeril  explains  to  us  that  the  terminal  bones  of  the  rattle- 
snake's spine  presenta  peculiar  form,  several  of  them  coalescing. 

'  Dans  les  Crotales  cette  extremite  de  la  queue,  au  lieu  d'etre 
pointue,  se  trouve  comma  tronquee,  et,  par  une  bizarrerie  que  nous 
n'expliquons  pas,  il  paraitrait  que  les  trois  dernieres  pieces  de  la 
colonne  vertebrale  se  seraient  soudees  entre  elles,  et  comme  aplaties 
pour  composer  un  seul  os  triangulaire,  avec  trois  bourrelets  lateraux 
simulant  des  restes  d'apophyses  transverses  des  vertebres,  ainsi 
qu'on  les  voir  souvent  dans  les  trois  dernieres  pieces  du  coccyx  chez 
I'homme.  Cet  os  anormale  a  ete  diss^que  chez  un  Crotale,  on  a 
reconnu  qu'il  est  recouvert  d'une  sorte  de  matiere  cartilagineuse 
dans  laquelle  aurait  ete  secretee  la  substance  cornee,  comme  un 
epiderme  solide,  qui  conserve  en  effet  exterieurement  la  forme  de 
la  piece  osseuse,  sur  laquelle  elle  a  ete  en  quelque  sorte  moulee  et 
qu'elle  semble  destinee  ainsi  a  proteger  centre  I'exfoliation,  comme 



cela  s'observe  dans  ceux  des  animaux  ruminants  dont  la  corne 
revet  les  chevilles  osseuse  du  veritable  coronal  prolonge  en  pointe 
et  devenu  de  cette  fagon  une  arme  d'attaque,  et  surtout  de 
defence. '  ^ 

Dumeril  also  tells  us  that  the  peculiar  structure  of  those 
few  terminal  vertebrae,  with  their  knobs  or  pads  ('  botirrelets ') 
upon  which  the  skin  is  moulded,  tends  to  a  movement  lateral 
rather  than  up  and  down, — that  quick  action  which  we 
perceive  when  the  rattle  is  being  vibrated.  Thus  the  horny 
covering  takes  the  form  of  this  bone  with  its  lobes  or  bulges, 
which  instead  of  permitting  the  supposed  cup-like  nail  to  fall 
off  as  in  our  finger  illustration,  causes  the  links  as  they  arc 
pushed  out  to  hang  or  cling  together ;  and  we  can  only 
suppose  that  the  constant  action  loosens,  and  not  only  loosens 
when  dead  or  detached,  but  loosens,  that  is  to  say,  enlarges, 
the  link  while  growing.  For  if  you  examine  the  spine  of  a 
skeleton  Crotalus  and  the  rattle  that  grew  upon  that  spine, 
you  will  perceive  that  the  links  are  a  great  deal  larger  than 
the  ^ pihe  osseuse  stir  laqiielle  elle  a  ete  en  qtielqiie  sorte  inoulee' 

There  is  one  other  peculiarity  observable  in  a  detached 
rattle,  which  I  cannot  pretend  to  explain  in  any  way.  If 
you  hold  one  up  by  its  base  or  largest  link,  you  will  find  it 
invariably  hangs  in  a  slight  curve  and  not  perpendicularly. 
You  can  straighten  it,  but  you  will  not  be  able  to  curve  it  in 
the  opposite  direction,  proving  that  it  naturally  inclines  one 
way,  whether  to  the  right  or  the  left  of  the  animal  while  living, 
I  cannot  assert.  But  it  is  a  curious  feature,  and  one  that 
can  no  doubt  be  accounted  for  by  scientific  observers.     Thus, 

*  Erpetologie  generale,  tome  vii.  part,  ii,  p.  1457,  par  MM.  Dumeril  et  Bibron, 





as  in  the  illustration  below,  you  can  curve  a  rattle  so  as  to 
discern  the  interior  links  on  one  side,  but  not  on  the  other.  I 
have  made  the  attempt  with  many  rattles,  but  always  with 
the  same  result.     The  centre  ficr.  below  is  a  section. 

Natural  position  when  held.  Straightened  by  force. 

This  fine  specimen,  natural  size,  and  also  the  Tapering  Rattle,  both  from  Mexico,  were  lent 
to  me  by  J.  G.  Braden,  Esq.  of  Lewes,  and  copied  accurately. 

Not  the  least  important  of  all  the  speculations  to  which 
the  rattling  tail  has  given  rise,  is  the  question,  '  Of  what  use 
is  it  ? '  for  we  know  that  nothing  exists  in  vain.  Apart  from 
the  fact  that  the  American  savages  make  some  medicinal  use 
of  the  rattle,  this  elaborated,  curious,  and  not  unsightly 
instrument  has  as  yet  had  no  special  and  determined  office 
assigned  to  it  to  the  advantage  of  its  possessor,  though 
theories  regarding  it  are  numerous. 

Formerly,  when  only  the  dangerous  powers  of  the  reptile 

THE  RATTLE.  307 

were  understood,  it  was  sufficient  to  say  of  it  in  a  tone  of 
pious  thankfulness,  that  the  Almighty  had  so  armed  this 
serpent  as  a  warning  to  its  enemies.  Some  of  those  early 
writers  introduce  the  rattlesnake  to  us  as  the  most  benevolent 
and  disinterested  of  dumb  animals,  conscientiously  living  up 
to  his  duties,  obedient  to  that  '  peculiar  Providence '  which 
has  given  him  a  rattle  *to  warn  the  inadvertent  intruder  of 
danger.'  '  He  maketh  such  a  noise  that  he  catcheth  very 
few,'  an  evidence  of  imprudence  wholly  inconsistent  with 
his  inherited  'wisdom.'  Indeed,  between  the  character 
given  of  this  '  superb  reptile '  by  Chateaubriand,  and  the  self- 
sacrificing  qualities  assigned  it  by  some  other  writers,  we  can 
only  wonder  how  a  hungry  rattlesnake  ever  managed  to 
survive  at  all,  and  how  it  is  that  the  race  is  not  extinct  long 

That  the  early  and  unscientific  travellers,  speaking  from  a 
thankful  experience  of  having  escaped  a  rattlesnake  through 
Jiearing  where  it  was,  should  seek  no  further  for  the  utility  of 
the  rattle,  is  not  much  to  be  wondered  at.  But  so  lately  as 
1 87 1  one  of  our  popular  physiologists,  whose  work  is  a  text- 
book, has  expatiated  on  this  theme  so  positively  that  it  is 
necessary  to  quote  his  words  on  this  '■  admirable  provision  of 
nature,'  which  apparently  has  elaborated  a  unique  appendage 
for  the  purpose  of  starving  its  proprietor ! 

*  The  intention  of  this  organ  is  so  obvious,  that  the  most 
obtuse  cannot  contemplate  it  without  at  once  appreciating 
the  beauty  of  the  contrivance.  ...  It  (the  snake)  announces 
the  place  of  its  concealment,  even  when  at  rest,  to  caution 
the  inadvertent  intruder  against  too  near  an  approach.'  ^ 

^  Organization  of  the  Animal  Kingdom,  p.  732.     By  T.  Rymer  Jones. 

3o8  SNAKES. 

If  all  the  venomous  serpents  were  thus  beneficently  armed 
(the  cobras  of  India  especially),  the  crusade  against  snakes 
would  be  at  an  end,  or  never  need  have  been  instituted  ;  for 
supposing  the  heedless  loiterer  to  have  been  a  bird,  squirrel, 
guinea-pig,  or  any  of  the  lesser  mammalia  which  form  the 
food  of  most  snakes,  these  happy  creatures  would  have  had 
the  world  to  themselves  long  ago,  while  vipers  had  kindly 
starved  themselves  out  of  all  traces. 

'Every  creature  of  God  is  good,'  we  must  repeat  and 
ponder  over.  Even  a  deadly  rattlesnake,  and  every  part  of 
that  rattlesnake,  has  its  appointed  use. 

The  'inadvertence'  (in  this  instance  on  the  part  of  the 
writer  who  thus  expressed  himself)  has  not  been  without 
its  use  as  well,  for  a  more  careful  attention  has  been  given 
to  the  rattle  in  consequence ;  and  much  controversy  has 
since  arisen  among  some  of  the  ablest  herpetologists,  parti- 
cularly in  America,  where  much  that  was  new  and  suggestive 
soon  found  its  way  into  the  scientific  journals. 

Briefly  to  summarize  some  of  the  arguments,  I  will  repeat 
a  few  of  them  as  suggested  by  some  well-known  naturalists. 
In  that  able  periodical,  the  American  Natic7'alist,  vol.  vi.  1872, 
the  subject  was  thoroughly  discussed.  Professor  Shaler, 
in  a  paper  on  '  The  Rattlesnake  and  Natural  Selection,' 
admitted  that  whereas  he  had  hftherto  thought  and  taught 
that  the  rattle  did  more  harm  than  good  to  its  owner,  he 
now  knew  that  the  sound  is  so  similar  to  that  of  the  stridu- 
lating  insects  upon  which  some  birds  feed,  that  he  had  no 
doubt  of  its  use  in  attracting  these  to  the  snake.  He  himself 
had  mistaken  the  sound  for  a  locust.  '  Does  it  invite  its 
enemies  or  entice  its  prey } '  he  asks.     '  Those  snakes  that 

THE  RATTLE.  309 

can  best  attract  birds,  are  best  fed.'  In  reply  to  this,  a  Mr. 
J.  W.  Beal  of  Michigan  affirmed  that  he  hkd  often  mistaken 
the  sound  for  grasshoppers ;  which  educed  many  similar 
accounts  from  persons  who  had  been  in  danger  of  treading 
on  a  Crotalus  through  'inadvertent  approach,'  supposing 
that  only  an  insect  were  there.  A  child  had  taken  it  for 
a  cicada,  some  one  else  for  a  locust,  etc.  Any  one  who  is 
acquainted  with  the  wild  parts  of  the  American  Continent, 
is  familiar  with  the  ceaseless  chirps  and  whizzings  of  those 
ubiquitous  insects  which  are  furnished  with  the  stridulating 
apparatus,  and  which  lead  you  almost  to  expect  to  see 
a  scissors-grinder  behind  every  tree.  These  are  all  the  more 
deceptive  on  account  of  their  varying  cadences,  now  louder, 
now  softer,  approaching  or  receding,  just  as  the  sound  of 
the  rattle  varies  by  increased  or  less  rapid  vibrations,  or 
according  to  its  individual  size  and  strength.  In  a  paper 
read  before  the  Zoological  Society  by  Mr.  A.  R.  Wallace 
in  1 87 1,  he  invited  attention  to  this  fact  of  the  resemblance 
between  the  sound  of  the  rattle  and  the  singing  of  a  cricket, 
and  that  its  use  seemed  to  be  to  decoy  insectivorous  animals. 

Dr.  Elliott  Coues  is  also  of  this  opinion,  viz.  that  to  an 
unpractised  ear  the  sound  cannot  be  distinguished  from 
the  crepitation  of  the  large  Western  grasshopper.  A  case 
has  been  reported,  he  tells  us,  of  a  bird  observed  to  be  drawn 
within  reach,  thinking  it  was  a  grasshopper.  Dr.  Coues  also 
affirms  that  the  sound  has  been  heard  when  no  perceptible 
irritation  disturbed  the  snake.^ 

Thus  we  see  that  the  '  inadvertent  intruder,'  so  far  from 

^  From  the  Bulletin  of  the  U.   S.   Geological  Survey  by  Dr.  Elliot   Coues, 
Appointed  Surgeon  and  Naturalist  to  the  Expedition,  1878. 

310  SNAKES. 

being  warned  away,  is  beguiled  to  his  injury,  both  in  the 
case  of  human  beings  not  quick  to  discriminate  sounds,  or 
not  having  rattlesnakes  in  their  minds,  and  with  animals  in 
their  early  experience  who  perhaps  hear  one  for  the  first  time. 

Another  question  is,  '  Does  the  snake  sound  its  rattles 
when  seeking  to  capture  prey  ? ' 

The  editor  o(th.Q  American  Naturalist  in  the  volume  already 
quoted,  thinks  they  do  not  systematically  set  up  a  rattling 
for  this  purpose  ;  and  as  far  as  observation  of  snakes  in 
confinement  can  be  of  use,  this  opinion  may  be  confirmed. 
Probably  a  captive  snake  may  have  learned  by  experience 
that,  hungry  or  not,  it  must  wait  for  its  periodical  dinner, 
and  that  its  '  dinner  bell '  avails  it  nothing.  Nevertheless, 
we  do  not  find  that  the  snake  uses  its  rattle  upon  food  being 
placed  in  its  cage,  unless  the  rat  or  the  guinea-pig  come 
tumbling  unexpectedly  or  unceremoniously  upon  the  snake, 
when  it  would  sound  its  rattle  in  alarm  ;  but  it  waits  quietly, 
silently,  rather  receding  than  advancing  towards  the  destined 
prey,  and  then,  after  cautious  observation,  stealthily  approach- 
ing to  give  the  fatal  bite.  Mr.  Arthur  Nicols,  author  of 
Zoological  Notes,  etc.,  has  there  discussed  this  point,  but 
dismisses  it  by  declaring  he  has  no  faith  in  '  the  dinner-bell 
theory.'  i 

Nor  can  the  rattle  be  designed  to  terrify  enemies  or  as 
a  menace,  since  the  sound  would  invite  the  attack  of  those 
very  animals  which  the  snake  has  most  cause  to  fear,  namely 
goats,  hogs,  and  the  large  carnivorous  birds  that  devour  it. 
If,  besides,  it  were  used  as  a  warning,  why  have  the  young 
ones,  which  are  more  in  need  of  protection,  no  rattle  ? 

^  The  Country  newspaper,  August  1878  et  seq. 

THE  RATTLE.  311 

Darwin,  in  the  sixth  edition  of  his  Origin  of  Species,  18/ 2, 
writes  as  follows,  p.  162  : — 

'  It  is  admitted  that  the  rattlesnake  has  a  poison-fang  for 
its  own  defence  and  for  the  destruction  of  its  prey ;  but 
some  authors  suppose  that  at  the  same  time  it  is  furnished 
with  a  rattle  for  its  own  injury,  namely  to  warn  its  prey. 
I  would  almost  as  soon  believe  that  the  cat  curls  the  end 
of  its  tail  when  preparing  to  spring  in  order  to  warn  the 
doomed  mouse.  It  is  a  much  more  probable  view  that  the 
rattlesnake  uses  its  rattle,  the  cobra  expands  its  frill,  and 
the  puff-adder  swells  whilst  hissing  so  loudly  and  harshly, 
in  order  to  alarm  the  many  birds  and  beasts  which  are 
known  to  attack  even  the  most  venomous  species.  Snakes 
act  on  the  same  principle  which  makes  a  hen  ruffle  her 
feathers  and  expand  her  wings  when  a  dog  approaches  her 
chickens.'  This  profound  thinker,  then,  is  one  of  those 
who  include  the  rattle  among  '  the  many  ways  by  which 
animals  endeavour  to  frighten  away  their  enemies.' 

We  may  reasonably  conclude  that  the  Crotabis,  in  common 
with  other  snakes,  also  with  dogs  and  cats,  expresses  a 
variety  of  feelings  with  its  sounding  tail,  fear  being  the 
most  predominant  one.  The  Indians  recognise  its  utility 
as  a  warning  by  gratefully  abstaining  from  killing  one  that 
rattles.  They  superstltiously  regard  it  as  protective  to 
themselves  if  not  to  the  snake,  and  they  in  turn  carefully 
protect  the  reptile.  Backwoodsmen  display  little  or  no  fear 
when  they  hear  the  Crotahcs,  and  though  they  do  not  spare 
it,  regard  it  with  less  bitter  animosity  than  they  display 
towards  its  cousin  the  Copper-head  ;  because,  as  a  facetious 
writer  has  testified  of  it,  '  it  never  bites  without  provocation, 

312  SNAKES. 

living  up  to  the  laws  of  honour,  and  by  his  rattles  giving 
challenge  in  an  honourable  way.' 

That  the  sound  has  a  language  of  its  own  is  known  by  the 
fact  that  when  disturbed  and  one  rattle  is  sprung,  all  other 
rattlesnakes  within  hearing  take  up  the  chorus.  That  the 
sexes  also  understand  each  other  through  crotaline  eloquence 
is  generally  believed.  In  fact,  to  each  other  and  to  them- 
selves they  have,  no  doubt,  as  many  variations  in  the  use  of 
their  rattles,  as  any  other  animal  in  the  expression  of  its  tail ; 
and  probably  all  the  above  enumerated  examples  are  at  one 
time  or  another  its  legitimate  uses.  Those  who  have  most 
closely  observed  them  have  detected  a  variety  of  cadences  in 
one  and  the  same  rattle. 

Those  also  who  have  carefully  watched  rattlesnakes 
under  various  circumstances,  must  perceive  that  timidity  is  one 
of  the  strongest  features  in  this  reptile.  In  chap.  xxx.  I 
will  give  examples  of  this.  Already  convinced  by  observa- 
tion, I  attributed  to  excessive  timidity  the  chief  agitation  of 
the  rattle,  when  writing  on  the  Ophidia  in  the  Dublin 
University  Magazine^  December  1875,  and  again  in  Aiuit 
Jiuifs  Magazi7ie,  July  1877.  Fear  causes  some  snakes  to 
puff  themselves ;  others  to  expand  or  flatten  the  body ; 
fear  excites  the  cobra  to  erect  its  anterior  ribs  and  display 
its  *  hood  ; '  and,  above  all,  fear  causes  most  snakes  to  hiss. 
Fear  is  coupled  with  anger,  in  these  attempts  to  do  their 
best  towards  repelling  the  offender.  Dr.  E.  Coues,  in 
speaking  of  the  rattle,  supposes  it  to  have  possibly 
'  resulted  in  the  course  of  time  from  the  continual  agita- 
tion of  the  caudal  extremity  of  these  highly  nervous  and 
irritable  creatures'     Dr.  Weir  Mitchell  has   known  captive 

THE  RATTLE.  313 

snakes  to  vibrate  the  rattle  for  hours  at  a  time  ;  and  probably, 
if  there  were  opportunities  of  becoming  more  intimately- 
acquainted  with  crotaline  idiosyncrasies,  we  should  discover 
some  snakes  to  be  more  or  less  afflicted  with  temper, 
nervousness,  terror,  or  other  emotions  which  induce  an  animal 
to  express  its  feelings  in  its  own  way. 

But  the  most  remarkable  peculiarity  in  this  snake  is  that 
no  other  way  is  in  its  power :  a  rattlesnake  never  hisses. 
Throughout  the  numerous  arguments,  theories,  explanations, 
and  suggestions,  there  is  such  an  absence  of  allusion  to  this 
fact  that  we  must  suppose  it  to  be  very  little  known.  Says 
Dumeril  in  describing  les  petits  etuis  comes,  compare  a  celni 
que  feraieiit  plusietirs  grelots  pen  sonores :  ^  Les  Cro tales 
different  de  tons  les  antres  serpents  connus  par  la  faculty  qu' ils 
ont  de  produire  des  sons  sourds  et  rapides^  cti  plntot  des  bruits 
contimis  et prolongh  a  Vaide  dun  organe  special^  qui  snplcerait 
— pour  ainsi  dire — a  la  voix,  dont  ces  seipents  sont  toiijours 
prives'  ^  But  the  sibilations  of  the  rattle  are  often  so  like 
hissing  that  they  have  been  compared  to  the  whistling  of 
wind  among  the  leaves,  to  the  escape  of  water  through  a  pipe, 
to  the  whizzing  of  insects,  the  rattling  of  seed  pods,  and  many 
similar  sounds,  showing  at  the  same  time  the  character  of  the 
noise  and  its  variability. 

Concisely  recapitulating  what  this  rattle  does,  we  under- 
stand that  in  the  first  place  it  is  a  substitute  for  the  voice — 
so  far  as  hissing  can  be  called  voice  ;  and  that  what  would 
cause  other  excessively  nerv^ous,  timid,  terrified  snakes  to  hiss, 
causes  the  rattle  to  vibrate.  It  may  attract  insectivorous 
birds  ;  it  may  alarm  other  timid  creatures  ;  it  may  summon  its 

^  Erpetologie  gencj-ale,  tome  vii.  p.  1456. 

314  SNAKES. 

mate  ;  and,  as  is  well  known,  it  has  sympathy  with  its  mate  ; 
for  a  second  rattle  is  almost  sure  to  be  sounded,  and  they 
have  been  observed  to  sound  in  pairs  or  numbers  respon- 
sively — it  may  be  to  express  anger,  fear,  and  for  aught  we 
"know  pleasure,  in  a  state  of  liberty  and  enjoyment,  feelings 
expressed  by  the  tail  of  other  creatures. 

Why  it  is  formed  as  it  is,  so  wholly  different  from  all  other 
tails ;  from  what  it  has  been  evolved  ;  and  how  long  in 
evolving, — all  these  are  problems  to  be  solved  by  future 
Darwins  and  future  Evolutionists. 

This  chapter,  therefore,  closes  with  only  feeble  speculations 
after  feeble  attempts  to  explain  an  inexplicable  phenomenon. 
The  simplest  and  truest  solution  seems  to  be  found  in  those 
few  words,  ^  qui  siiplcerait  a  la  voix,  dont  ces  serpents  sont 
toujoiirs  prives.^ 

Again,  we  wonder  whether  in  the  non-hissing  serpents  any 
peculiarity  of  trachea  may  be  observed. 





AVING  decided  that  in  animal  ornfanization  nothinc^ 

exists  without  its  especial  use  ;  assuming  also  that 
the  peculiar  development  of  cuticle  forming  the  rattle  is  to 
supply  the  deficiency  of  voice,  we  are  next  induced  to  examine 
those  other  appendages  in  serpents  which  are  also  modifications 
of  the  integument,  such  as  the  '  horns '  of  the  Cerastes,  the 
tentacles,  snout-protuberances,  and  developments  occasionally 
seen  about  the  head  of  snakes,  and  which  have  all,  no  doubt, 
their  uses. 

'  Serpents  are  naked,'  says  Giinther — that  is,  they  have  no 
separate  epidermal  productions  in  the  way  of  fur,  feathers, 
hair,  or  wool,  and  all  the  variations  of  form  in  scales  are  but 
the  folds  of  the  epidermis.^  The  '  variations  of  form  '  include, 
therefore,  the  appendages  above  mentioned. 

The  heads  of  most  snakes  are  covered  with  non-imbricated 
plates  or  shields.  The  form  and  position  of  these  shields  are 
in  a  great  measure  used  in  classification  ;  '  are  of  the  greatest 

1  Reptiles  of  British  India,  by  Dr.  Albert  Giinther,  F.R.S. 




value  for  distinction  of  species  and  genera.'  i  For  this  reason 
each  and  all  of  the  head  shields  are  specially  named. 

Ophiologists  differ  slightly  in  distinguishing  them  as 
regards  assigning  the  exact  position  of  some  of  the  shields, 
which,  like  all  other  ophidian  features,  vary  in  closely  allied 
species.  As,  for  example,  while  one  naturalist  may  decide 
that  a  certain  shield  is  exactly  over  the  eye,  another  may 
consider  it  somewhat  to  the  right  or  the  left. 

Glinther's  classification  being  the  one  now  generally  adopted, 
I  copy  the  names  assigned  by  him,  and  the  diagrams  given  in 
his  work. 

Fig.  I.  Top  of  the  head  of  a  Colubrine  snake,  r,  rostral ;  /',  anterior  frontal  j 
/,  posterior  frontal ;  v,  vertical ;  s,  supraciliary  ;  o,  occipital ;  t,  temporal. 

Fig.  2.  Profile  of  the  same,  t,  temporal ;  /,  posterior  ocular  or  orbital ; 
a,  anterior  ocular  or  prceorbital  ;  /,  loreal ;  n,  nasals ;  uu,  upper  labials ; 
**,  lower  labials. 

Fig.  3.  Under  side  of  the  same.  **,  lower  labials ;  cc,  chin-shields ;  7/i, 
mental  or  median  lower  labial. 

It  will  be  observed  that  some  of  these  shields  can  be  seen 
both  in  the  profile  and  the  others  as  well ;  as,  for  instance,  the 

^  Reptiles  of  British  Ifidia,  by  Dr.  Albert  Giinther,  F.  R.  S. 


temporal  and  the  labial  or  lip  shields.  The  study  of  them  is 
simplified  by  the  initial  letter  of  each  name  being  used  in 
reference  to  them.  The  names  used  also  speak  for  them- 
selves •;  as  mental,  the  chin  shield  ;  nasals,  near  the  nostril ; 
rostral,  the  beak  shields. 

Ophiologists  in  deciding  species,  etc.,  enumerate  those 
which  are  more  than  a  pair  as  '  upper  labials '  so  many, 
*  lower  labials '  so  many.  In  some  snakes  these  shields  are 
so  large  as  to  cover  nearly  the  entire  head  ;  in  others,  they 
are  almost  inconspicuously  small,  or  absent  altogether,  and 
much  varied,  as  we  shall  see. 

In  the  vipers  the  head  is  generally  covered  with  small, 
rigid,  imbricated,  or  over-lapping  scales  instead  of  plates,  and 
in  some  the  scales  are  so  extremely  fine  and  closely  arranged 
as  almost  to  represent  short  bristles.  This  is  noticeable  in 
the  African  'nose-horned  viper'  {Vipera  nasicornis),  -p.  322, 
where  they  present  a  curiously  complicated  structure. 

Too  minute  to  examine 
except  under  the  magnify- 
ing-glass,  or  to  attempt  to 

'  y         Magnified  carinated         Magnified  head-scale  of 

only  a  general  idea  of  these  ^^^'^'  c'?i'ored'TiSSn°'  ^'^ 

curious  viper  scales,  which  to  the  touch  are  spinous,  and 
rough  as  a  coarse  brush.  They  must  form  an  unpleasant 
perch  for  a  bird,  if  it  be  true  that  the  latter  is  enticed  by  the 
horns  of  some  vipers  to  come  and  peck  at  them,  as  at  a 
worm.  These  rigid  head-scales  become  gradually  larger  and 
more  simple  on  the  body,  but  are  still  comparatively  small 
for  so  large  a  serpent.  In  some  few  of  the  viperine  snakes, 
plates  are  present  as  well  as  the  fine  scales,  though  chiefly 



about  the  nose  and  mouth,  exceptions  which  are  now  and 
then  found  in  non-venomous  ones  also.  The  preceding  three 
illustrations  are  the  head  shields  of  a  Colubrine  snake,  in 
which  a  greater  uniformity  prevails.  Below  are  given  four 
other   types,   though   even    here    variations    are    constantly 


Fig.  a.  One  of  the  Indian  Crotalidce.  It  has  two  con- 
spicuous supraciliary  shields,  two  equally  conspicuous 
anterior  frontals  over  the  nostril.  The  rest  are  small,  and 
those  on  the  top  are  absent  altogether.  The  scales  are  all 
finely  carinated. 

Fig.  b.  The  head  of  a  Colubrine  snake  in  which  the 
same  scales  appear  as  those  in  Fig.  i  of  the  preceding 
page,  viz.  two  orbitals,  etc.,  but  are  all  much  smaller,  and 
do  not  therefore  more  than  half  cover  the  head. 

Fig.  c.  The  head  of  a  sea  snake,  which  as  to  design 
is  really  pretty,  and,  as  Giinther  affirms,  so  different 
from  land  snakes  in  respect  to  head  shields,  that  without 
any  further  investigation  an  ophiologist  can  at  once  dis- 
tinguish the  JiydropJiidcB. 

Fig.  d.  The  head  of  a  viper  in  which  only  very  small  supra- 
ciliary  and  nasal  (or  anterior  frontal)  shields  are  seen.      The 


angular  form  of  the  vlperine  head  Is  here  noteworthy.  In 
some  of  the  Tropical  American  viperine  species  (the 
CrotalidcB)  the  angular  head  is  so  marked  as  to  be  separated 
into  a  genus  —  the  Trigonocephali,  three-cornered  heads. 
One  head  is  sagittate  or  arrow-shaped  to  such  an  extent 
that  the  serpent  is  known  as  the  Fer  de  lance,  the  dreaded 
Trigonocephahis  lanceolaUis  of  the  Antilles.  There  are 
Trigonocephali  among  the  Indian  Thanatophidia  also. 

One  other  very  remarkable  exception  must  not  be 
omitted — namely,  that  in  pythons  may  be  seen  an  angular 
head,  which  makes  the  neck  thin  and  conspicuous,  only 
in  a  less  degree  ;  and  also  the  absence  of  large  head  shields. 
In  addition  to  this,  many  of  the  pythons  have  particularly 
short  and  very  pointed  tails — three  singular  viperine  features 
in  non-venomous  snakes,  which  can  only  be  inherited  from 
a  common  ancestry. 

Another  caprice  is  seen  in  the  carinated  or  keel-shaped 
body  scales,  which  are  found  in  venomous  and  non-venomous, 
land  and  water,  ground  and  tree  snakes  indifferently  ; 
though  I  think  one  may  be  safe  in  affirming  that  none 
of  the  true  vipers  have  unkeeled  and  polished  scales. 
Nicholson  has  observed  that  in  several  allied  species,  some 
have  and  some  have  not  the  keel,  and  that  those  without 
do  as  well  as  those  with.  'The  history  of  the  keel  is  not 
known,'  says  this  author.  In  appearance  it  reminds  one 
of  the  mid-rib  of  a  leaf  or  of  a  feather,  and  may  probably 
be  an  inherited  feature  in  common  with  birds  whose 
reptilian  ancestry  in  process  of  ages  had  fluttered  their 
scales  into  feathers.  In  fact,  in  many  snakes  where  no  keel 
is  found,  there  is  some  slight  indication  of  a  centre  line,  even 

320  SNAKES, 

if  it  take  the  form  of  a  groove  or  depression.  In  the 
Tropidonoti  the  keel  is  so  developed  as  to  distinguish 
the  group ;  yet  many  with  keels  have  comparatively 
smooth  skins.  The  carinated  scales  of  vipers  (from  carina, 
a  keel)  are  sharply  defined,  like  the  keel  at  the  prow  of  a 
ship,  or  like  the  breast  -  bone  of  the  swift-flying  birds 
which  Mr.  Sclater,  in  one  of  his  zoological  lectures, 
described  as  the  carinate  birds.  It  is  these  sharply-defined, 
stiff,  and  dull  scales  belonging  to  the  vipers  which  produce 
the  rustling  noise  when  the  snake  is  agitated,  as  described  in 
the  little  Indian  Echis  carinata  in  the  chapter  on  hissing. 
In  the  Cerastes  I  have  witnessed  the  same  agitated  con- 
volutions accompanied  by  the  audible  rustling  produced  by 
the  rough  scales.     See  illus.  p.  317. 

What  are  called  '  horns '  in  some  of  the  African  vipers  are 
curiously-modified  scales,  which,  under  close  examination, 
present  the  appearance  of  half-curled  leaves,  sometimes  of 
ears,  like  those  of  a  rabbit  or  a  mouse.  Being  only  cuticle, 
and  liable  to  injury,  these  '  horns '  vary  in  size  and  colour 
as  well  as  form. 

The  accompanying  figure  is  from 
the  slough  of  the  Vipera  nasicornis 
of  the  coloured  illustration.  They 
were  not  reversed  in  desquamation, 
but  came  off  with  a  portion  of  the 
fine  spiny  head  scales.     They  were  so    The  sloughed  horns  of V:>... 

■,  11'iiijjI  ^'  1^1      J  nasuorm's  (exact  size). 

dry  and  shrivelled  at   the   time,  that 

it  is  hard  to  conceive  how  they  could  possibly  be  reversed, 
the  rest  of  the  bristly  head-scales  peeling  off  in  pieces.  Yet 
we   cannot   conclude    from   this   that   the   horns   are   never 

'  I'T'  ■  if, 











reversed  in  sloughing ;  the  individual  in  question  having 
undergone  long  captivity  in  a  close  box  during  her  journey 
from  West  Africa,  and  arriving  at  the  Zoological  Gardens 
in  such  a  miserable  plight  that  it  was  difficult  to  distinguish 
species  or  colouring  for  many  days.  In  this  condition  she 
remained  for  five  weeks,  when  one  fine  Sunday  afternoon  she 
presented  the  Society  with  forty-six  viperlings. 

Soon  after  this  event  she  discarded  her  way-worn  and 
bedraggled  garment,  and  shone  resplendent  in  gorgeous 
colouring,  as  presented  to  the  reader  in  the  coloured 

Her  portrait  was  not  taken  until  some  weeks  afterwards, 
when  the  horns  were  therefore  a  little  dry  and  shrivelled  again.' 
With  the  new  dress  they  presented  a  well-defined  and 
perfect  curve,  tapering  to  a  point,  and  without  any  break  in 
their  outline.  By  degrees  they  became  curled  in  the  manner 
here  represented.  Her  colours  were  of  a  rich  prismatic  hue 
on  the  sides,  where  the  brilliant  tints  are  so  blended  that 
to  paint  them  is  impossible.  Only  on  the  back  and  in  the 
darker  markings  can  the  pattern  be  fairly  represented.  Her 
children  all  resembled  her  in  their  rich  tints,  and  were  so 
handsome  that  one  almost  forgot  their  evil  propensities. 

Forty  of  them  died  within  a  week.  I  begged  hard  for  one 
of  the  deceased.  The  keeper  of  course  had  no  power  in  his 
hands.  All  were  wanted  for  scientific  experimentalists.' 
Alas,  I  was  no  scientist,  but  only  a  woman  !  The  following 
Sunday,  when  I  was  at  the  Gardens,  the  forty-first  baby  viper 
had  just  died.  The  Superintendent  'happened  along,'  and 
was  greeted  with  another  appeal  from  mc.  He  would 
'  consider  of  it '  and  let  mc  know  '  to-morrow.'     '  Oh,  why  not 

32  2  SNAKES. 

now?^   pleaded    the   reader's  devoted    servant.     'You    can't 
want  forty-one  little  dead  vipers  ! ' 

Suddenly  to  the  rescue  appeared  on  the  scene  no  less  a 
personage  than  Dr.  Gunther,  and  to  him  I  urged  my  request. 
'Well/  said  he  in  reponse  to  my  eagerness,  'one  of  Our  Council 
is  here,  and ' —  Yes,  the  F.Z.S.  referred  to  had,  with  the 
Superintendent,  just  passed  the  iron  barrier  to  view  the 
interesting  little  survivors,  and  Dr.  Giinther  followed,  while  I 
discreetly  remained  outside.  My  suspense  was  not  of  long 
duration,  for  soon  reappeared  the  amiable  Superintendent 
daintily  carrying  a  little  paper  bag  which  might  have  con- 
tained bon-bons.  '  Fortunately,'  said  he,  '  two  of  Our  Council 
happen  to  be  here,  and  so,'  etc.,  and  I  became  the  happy 
possessor  of  the  scarcely  cold  viperling,  here  faithfully 
represented  by  the  side  of  its  mother.  Exultantly  I  carried 
it  off  to  a  sequestered  spot, — thinking  chiefly  of  you,  dear 
readers, — and  examined  its  'horns,'  which  wore  the  appearance 
of  an  ornamental  top-knot  rather  than  horns.  They  were 
like  a  bow,  or  two  little  ears,  or  half-unfolded  leaves.  Its 
colouring  was  gorgeous,  but  the  pattern  is  too  fine  and 
complicated  to  represent  on  so  small  a  scale.  The  black 
triangular  mark  on  the  head  of  both  mother  and  child  was 
like  velvet  in  its  density.  Nor  was  this  appearance  lessened 
under  the  lens  ;  for  quickly  I  ran  off  with  my  treasure,  and 
spent  a  delightful  '  evening  at  home '  in  studying  its  '  points/ 
not  even  excepting  those  of  tongue  and  fangs.  The  former 
is  represented  on  p.  120,  and  the  latter  on  p.  360.  The  other 
'  results  of  my  investigations  come  under  their  separate  heads 
in  this  book. 

Another  of  the  horned   serpents,   Vipera  cormitdy  has   a 



cluster  of  leaf-like  scales  in  three  distinct  pairs  decorating 
its  nose.  These  in  the  individual  at  the  Zoological  Gardens 
were  particularly  ear-like,  and  there  was  a  remarkable 
peculiarity  about  them  which  was  not  found  in  either  of  the 
other  horned  specimens  when  dead.  It  was,  that  when  one 
horn  was  moved  divergently  with  the  finger,  its  fellow  moved 
without  being  touched  to  correspond,  and  when  let  go  both 
sprang  back  to  their  original  position.  I  at  first  was  merely 
feeling  and  examining  them  when  this  singularly  sympathetic 
movement  arrested  my  attention.  Then  I  tried  it  with  each 
of  the  six  scales  or  '  horns '  several  times,  and  always  with 
the  same  result.  Whichever  one  of  them  was  held  back,  the 
opposite  one  diverged  at  a  corresponding  angle. 

1.  Natural  position. 

2.  Three  held  back  to 
their  utmost 


3.  Three  held  back 

Their  natural  position  is  nearly  erect,  and  when  one  horn 
— say  the  longest  to  the  right  in  Fig.  I — was  pressed  or 
pulled  outwards,  we  might  suppose  that  in  a  dead  specimen 
it  would  drag  its  fellow  that  way  also,  should  any  movement 
at  all  take  place  ;  instead  of  which,  it  flew  off  in  the  opposite 
direction,  like  two  negative  or  two  positive  poles  repelling 
each  other.  If  I  pressed  the  three  to  the  right  as  much  as 
in  the  centre  figure,  the  other  three  receded  similarly  to  the 
left.  Each  pair  acted  in  concert  in  this  remarkable  manner, 
or  each  two  pairs,  or  all  three  pairs. 

324  SNAKES. 

The  three  sketches  are  given  merely  in  illustration  of  a 
phenomenon  which  I  cannot  attempt  to  explain  or  even  to 
comprehend.  They  were  drawn  from  memory,  and  are  not 
therefore  offered  as  exact  representations,  though  near 
enough  to  serve  our  purpose.  The  movement  seems  to 
argue  some  peculiar  muscular  or  nervous  connection  between 
each  pair.  The  serpent  had  not  been  long  dead  ;  and  as  no 
others  of  this  species  have  since  been  at  the  Gardens,  I  cannot 
tell  whether  the  same  sympathetic  movement  would  be  seen 
in  the  living  viper.  I  have  attentively  watched  the  horns  of 
the  other  vipers,  but  never  detected  the  slightest  voluntary 
action  in  them.  Nor  do  the  horns  of  V.  iiasicornis  respond  to 
the  touch  in  the  same  way.  A  third  of  the  horned  vipers 
is  the  Cerastes  of  classic  times.  Illustrators  of  books  from 
descriptions  only  have  presented  us  with  this  serpent  adorned 
with  horns  like  a  young  heifer.  They  are  sim.ply  scaly 
appendages  like  the  rest,  but  when  perfect  do  certainly  curve 
backwards  and  upwards  in  a  rather  bovine  fashion.  It 
happened  that  a  Cerastes  was  brought  to  the  Gardens  just 
after  the  six-horned  viper  had  died,  affording  me  a  happy 
opportunity  of  examining  it.  It  was  of  this  viper  that  Pliny 
wrote  :  '  It  moves  its  little  horns,  often  4  in  number,  to  attract 
birds,  the  rest  of  its  body  lying  concealed.'  It  is  the  habit 
of  all  those  inhabiting  sandy  deserts  thus  to  hide  themselves, 
probably  to  escape  the  scorching,  drying  sunshine,  and  with 
perhaps  the  nose  and  upper  part  of  the  head  exposed  for 
breathing.  I  have  carefully  watched  several  of  the  horned 
vipers  for  a  long  while  together,  but  have  never  detected  the 
slightest  volitional  movement  in  their  horns.  A  bird  might 
come  and  peck  at  them,  nevertheless.     Another  belonging 


to  South  Africa  {Lophophrys)  has  a  bunch  of  irregular  and 
much  shorter  horns  standing  erect  and  apparently  unpaired. 
Incipient  horny  scales  often  accompany  the  regular  pairs, 
making  it  difficult  to  decide  exactly  which  was  Pliny's  of  the 
*  four  horns/  and  which  is  the  Hcxacornis  of  Shaw.  Varieties 
exist  and  add  to  the  perplexity  ;  probably  also  hybrids  occur 
among  these  as  among  non-viperine  snakes. 

A  curious  variety  of  the  nasal  appendages  appears  in  the 
Langaha  with  the  crete  de  ccq ;  only  the  crest  is  on  the 
snout  instead  of  on  the  head. 

These  spurs  are  merely 
modifications  of  the  epidermis 
like  the  rest  ;  but  are,  no 
doubt,  endowed  with  peculiar  Vxo^\&  oi Langaha. 

sensitiveness,  so  that  possibly  they  act  as  a  sort  of  herald 
in  the  dark,  like  a  cat's  whiskers. 

There  are  the  pointed-nosed  Dryophidians  also,  with 
scaly  protuberances,  and  others  with  variously-elongated 
snouts  terminating  in  long,  scaly,  horn-like  appendages,  all, 
no  doubt,  more  or  less  sensitive,  to  enable  the  owners  to 
feel  their  way,  or  ascertain  the  nature  of  their  surroundings, 
especially  if  they  are  of  nocturnal  habits. 

In  some  of  the  tree  snakes, 
notably  Passerita,  there  is 
no  appendage,  but  the  long 
snout  is  itself  endowed  with  vrofiic  oi Passerita. 

mobility.  This  is  a  nocturnal  snake ;  a  harmless  and 
exceedingly  slender,  graceful  creature. 

But  of  these  curious  developments  or  prolongations,  one 
of  the   Indian    fresh -water    snakes    presents   a    remarkable 

326  SMAKES, 

example,  almost  allying  it  to  some  of  the  fishes  with  long 
tentacular  appendages.  Herpeton  tentaailum  is  its  name, 
its  pair  of  tentacles  being  scaly  and  flexible,  and  in  appear- 
ance somewhat  like  the  African  viper's  horns,  sticking  out 
horizontally  from  its  snout.  They  are  employed  under 
water  as  organs  of  touch,  and  probably  to  discern  food. 

These  are  some  of  the  most  striking  head-appendages  ; 
though  in  the  way  of  pug-nosed  ophidians  and  curious  profiles 
we  might  give  a  whole  page  of  illustrations. 

In  the  acrobatic  chapter,  mention  was  made  of  a  pair  of 
rudimentary  hind  limbs  in  some  of  the  boas.  Externally 
the  derm  is  condensed  into  'claws'  or  *  hooks.'  In  form 
they  are  merely  long,  simple  appendages,  which  in  the 
largest  boas  are  about  as  big  as  a  finger.  Claws  and  hooks 
they  are  in  the  matter  of  use,  being  a  pair,  and  they  no 
doubt  assist  the  climbing  snakes  in  grasping. 

As  a  condensed  form  of  the  tegument,  they  are  included 
in  this  chapter ;  but  as  they  are  truly  vestiges  of  limbs, 
I  will  digress  a  moment  to  add  a  word. 

Says  Darwin  on  rudimentary  and  atrophied  limbs  :  *  The 
disuse  of  parts  leads  to  their  reduced  size :  and  the  result  is 
inherited.'  Some  tame  little  lizards  in  my  possession — our 
native  species — when  crawling  about  their  cages  scratching 
the  sand  or  pushing  their  way  among  the  moss  and  rubbish, 
frequently  made  use  of  their  fore  legs  only,  allowing  the 
hind  legs  to  drag  after  them,  not  because  the  latter  were  in 
any  way  injured,  but  simply  because  the  lizards  could  do  well 
enough  without  them.  They  were  folded  back  or  permitted 
to  lie  passively  prone  against  the  tail,  while  the  arms  and 
exquisite  little  hands  were  sufficient  for  the  work  required. 


They  reminded  one  of  Darwin's  words,  and  though  my  style 
of  talking  to  my  pets  was  such  as  to  suit  lizard  comprehen- 
sion solely,  I  did  sometimes  warn  them  in  plain  English.  '  If 
you  don't  give  your  legs  sufficient  exercise,  they  will  dwindle 
away  by  and  by,  and  your  descendants  will  have  no  hind 
legs  at  all ! ' 

After  thus  moralizing  to  the  unheeding  lacertines,  it  was 
with  secret  gratification  that  one  heard  Professor  Huxley,  in 
his  Lecture  on 'Snakes 'at  the  London  Institution,  Dec.  i, 
1879,  say — as  nearly  as  I  can  remember — 'In  evolution  or  a 
gradual  change,  the  lizard  found  it  profitable  to  lose  its  legs 
and  become  a  snake  ;  all  modifications  are  an  improvement 
to  the  creature,  putting  it  in  a  better  condition.'  In  this 
better  condition,'  therefore,  does  the  slow-worm  find  itself, 
when  it  glides  noiselessly,  and  almost  without  stirring  a  blade 
of  grass,  into  its  burrow.  In  other  lizards  one  may  some- 
times observe  that  the  hiJid  legs  are  most  used  in  scratching 
and  pushing  the  earth  away.  Thus,  in  the  constricting 
snakes — these  descendants  of  some  pre-ophidian  lizards — 
the  unused  limbs  have  become  obsolete ;  and  the  spine, 
gaining  strength  with  increased  action,  has  at  length  become 
to  the  constrictors  their  hands,  feet,  arms,  and  legs,  and 
endowed  with  those  wondrous  capabilities  which  were  de- 
scribed in  chap.  xii. 

To  return  to  the  integument.  As  one  of  its  developments, 
the  hood  of  the  cobra  may  be  included  in  this  chapter,  the 
skin  here  exhibiting  its  extensile  or  expansive  construction. 
It  is  the  longer  ribs,  about  twenty  pairs  nearest  the  head 
(see  p.  33),  which  really  do  form  the  hood.  These  anterior 
ribs,  gradually  increasing  in   length    and    decreasing  again, 

328  .  SNAKES. 

are  not  connected  with  the  ventral  scales  in  the  same  way 
as  those  on  which  the  snake  progresses,  but  can  be  elevated 
or  expanded  in  the  manner  familiar  to  the  reader  ;  they  then 
support  the  extended  skin  exactly  in  the  way  that  the  ribs 
of  a  lined  parasol  support  the  fabric  ;  only  while  the  ribs  of 
the  parasol  spring  from  a  common  centre,  the  ribs  of  the 
cobra  are  attached  to  its  vertebrae,  requiring  no  other  agency 
than  the  will  of  the  owner.  The  action  of  the  ribs  as 
expressive  of  emotion,  in  several  species  of  snakes,  was 
mentioned  page  150.  In  the  '  hooded '  snakes  {najd),  it  is 
seen  in  an  extreme  degree.  Facing  you,  the  angry  cobra 
displays  these  umbra-like  expanded  ribs,  while  the  form  of 
the  '  neck '  or  vertebral  column  in  the  centre  is  prominently 
perceptible.  When  at  rest,  they  all  lie  flat  one  over  the  other, 
like  the  ribs  of  a  closed  parasol. 

In  the  way  of  external  peculiarities  the  'gular  fissure'  may 
be  mentioned.  It  is  merely  a  slight  groove  or  crease  extend- 
ing from  the  chin  longitudinally  under  the  throat  for  a  few 
inches  or  more,  according  to  the  size  of  the  snake  ;  a  sort  of 
wrinkle  {fosse)  to  admit  of  expansion  during  the  swallowing 
of  prey. 

Externally  snakes  have  no  indication  of  ears  ;  therefore,  in 
the  way  of  integument,  there  is  nothing  to  describe  in  their 
organ  of  hearing.  But  the  eye  covering  is  a  beautiful  and 
wonderful  arrangement. 

Snakes  have  no  eyelids,  and  can  therefore  never  close 
their  eyes,  a  fact  which  has  given  rise  to  a  vulgar  belief  that 
they  never  sleep.  Their  eyes  are,  however,  well  developed, 
particularly  in  those  snakes  which  live  above  ground,  and 
are    covered    with   a   transparent    layer    of  the    epidermis, 


forming  a  capsule  which  is  moulted  with  the  cuticle. 
Physiologists  tell  us  that  it  is  moistened  with  the  lachrymal 
fluid.  Bright  and  glistening  is  the  serpent's  eye,  except 
previous  to  desquamation,  when,  from  the  new  skin  forming 
beneath,  it  becomes  opaque  and  dull,  and  the  snake  is 
blind  for  a  few  days  more  or  less,  according  to  its  health  at 
the  time.  Rymer  Jones  considers  the  transparent  mem- 
brane cast  with  the  slough  a  real  eyelid  in  a  framework  of 
regular  scales  ;  Huxley  (in  the  lecture  already  alluded  to)  said 
snakes'  eyelids  are  as  if  our  two  eyelids  were  joined.  In  form 
and  appearance  this  moulted  cuticle 
is  singularly  clear  and  shapely :  on 
the  outer  side,  like  a  miniature  watch- 
glass  ;    but    within  it  is    a  perfect  cup,         H'-^tration  of  eye  covering. 

standing  up  and  out  from  the  surrounding  scales  like  a 
cup  in  a  saucer,  the  rounded  base  of  which  is  the  transparent 
skin,  as  here  seen. 

For  the  process  of  sloughing  or  casting  the  skin,  the  term 
desquamation — literally,  an  unsealing — is  often  used  ;  but 
this  word  seems  rather  to  imply  an  unhealthy  action,  as 
if  the  cuticle  peels  off  in  pieces,  than  the  normal  operation, 
which  is  to  shed  it  entire. 

It  is  a  matter  of  surprise — if  we  are  to  believe  what  we 
read — that  few  naturalists  seem  to  have  witnessed  this 
process,  so  as  to  be  able  to  describe  it  from  their  own 
observations  ;  but  this  must  be  due  more  to  lack  of  interest 
than  of  opportunity,  since  the  occurrence  is  very  frequent. 
Those  in  the  vicinity  of  Zoological  Gardens  have  no  excuse 
for  not  observing  it  ;  yet  so  lately  as  Oct.  1879,  we  find  a 
writer  in  Nature,  vol.  xx.  p.  530,  attempting  to  describe  the 

330  SNAKES. 

*  skin-shedding/  with  the  admission  that  he  has  never 
witnessed  the  process,  nor,  he  beheves,  '  has  any  observer ' ! 
He  thinks  snakes  shed  the  skin  '  as  if  you  turned  a  narrow 
hem,  or  a  glove-finger  by  a  knotted  thread  fastened  at  the 
tip,'  and  which  of  course  would  draw  the  tip  inside  the 
finger.  The  glove  tip  is  to  represent  the  tail  of  the  snake, 
which,  as  he  supposes,  adhering  at  the  tip,  is  drawn  along 
inwards  as  the  snake  proceeds  to  crawl  out  of  its  own 
mouth,  or  its  cuticle's  mouth — which  has  already  become 
loosened  round  the  lips.  This,  in  the  mind  of  that  writer, 
satisfactorily  accounts  for  the  skin  being  usually  found 
reversed !  Can  he  have  never  seen  a  silkworm  change  its 
skin  ;  or  found  the  slough  of  a  common  caterpillar  adhering 
to  its  tail  ;  or  observed  the  appearance  of  its  mouth  previous 
to  the  moulting?  True,  a  slow-worm  sometimes  leaves  its 
slough  in  a  crumpled-up  condition,  exactly  like  the  silk- 
worm's. This  I  have  seen.  On  the  other  hand,  the  same 
little  reptile,  on  another  occasion,  crawled  out  of  its  coat, 
leaving  it  perfect  and  unreversed  through  its  entire  length. 
Both  sloughs  have  been  preserved.  As  a  more  general  rule 
the  slough  is  reversed  ;  but  in  the  process  it  folds  back  and 
over  the  body,  outside  of  it,  in  the  manner  of  a  stocking 
drawn  off  from  knee-wards,  and  turning  back  till  entirely 
reversed  it  leaves  the  foot.  This  common  and  apt  illustra- 
tion is  easily  understood  if  we  suppose  the  top  of  the  stocking 
to  be  the  mouth  of  the  slough,  and  the  toe  its  tail.  But  as 
the  toes  might  sometimes  slip  out  of  a  stocking  when  nearly 
off,  so  does  the  tail  of  a  snake  sometimes  slip  out ;  this 
portion  therefore  is  often  found  unreversed.  More  than  a 
hundred  years  ago  the  sloughing  of  snakes  was  understood 


and  described  in  the  Phil.  Trans,  for  1747,  vol.  xl.  ;  as  also 
of  lizards  'slipping  off  their  skins  as  vipers  do.'  Some  young 
vipers  changed  at  six  weeks  old,  and  again  in  two  months 
after  that.  'They  always  began  at  the  mouth/  said  the 
writer.  The  process  has  been  witnessed  and  described  by 
many  since  that,  though  more  by  foreign  than  by  English 

Some  of  the  older  writers  have  told  us  that  '  a  snake 
frequents  the  spot  where  it  has  cast  its  skin,'  or,  in  other 
words,  that  it  selects  that  locality  for  its  nest — a  fact  as 
curiously  stated  as  if  you  related  of  a  person  that  he  chose 
for  his  home  the  house  in  which  he  performed  his  toilet. 
Snakes  have  a  strong  affection  for  locality ;  and  where 
their  nest  is,  there,  or  near  it,  their  garments  are  naturally 

Another  mooted  question  has  been  the  precise  period 
of  sloughing  ;  formerly  the  accepted  opinion  was  that  once 
a  year,  viz.  in  the  spring,  was  the  usual  habit.  This  was 
probably  from  so  many  coils  of  skins  being  found  at  this 
season.  That  they  do  change  in  the  spring  may  be  estab- 
lished as  an  almost  invariable  rule  ;  but  not  then  only.  No 
precise  periods  can  be  given  with  certainty,  because  it 
depends  on  the  individual,  its  health  and  surroundings.  The 
ophidian  is  a  fastidious  creature,  and  when  his  garment 
becomes  soiled  or  uncomfortable  he  discards  it.  Thus  after 
hibernation,  when  for  some  months  numbers  of  snakes  have 
been  coiled  in  masses  in  a  cave  or  under  stones  and  rubbish, 
and  they  emerge  into  daylight,  aroused  by  the  sun's  revivify- 
ing rays,  what  more  natural  than  to  cast  off  the  old  winter 
garb  for  a  more  comfortable  suit  ? 

332  .  SNAKES. 

Almost   invariably,  soon    after   a   long  journey,  and    on 
being  established  in  a  new  home,  a   snake   re-attires.     We 
have  seen  what  their  travelling  cages  are !     Closely  nailed 
up,  and  often  in  air-tight  boxes   in  which  the  poor  things 
are  tumbled  over  and  over  with  as  little  mercy  as  ceremony 
during    removal    from    one    conveyance    to    another,    they 
arrive — as  in  the  case  of  the  African  viper  (coloured  illus- 
tration)— in  such  a  pitiable  plight  that  it  is  next  to  impos- 
sible to  identify  them.      Another  almost  invariable  rule  is 
sloughing  soon  after  birth — that  is,  in  from  a  week  to  a  fort- 
night ;  also,  during  early  and  rapid  growth,  the  young  snake 
will  change  frequently.       Most  ophiologists   fix   upon   two 
months  as  an  average  time,  taking  one  snake  with  another  ; 
for  while  one    may   desquamate  every  few   weeks,   another 
may  keep  his  coat  unsoiled  for  six  months. 

Sir  Joseph  Fayrer  made  careful  notes  on  this  subject.  He 
had  one  cobra  which  changed  in  rather  less  than  a  month — 
viz.  first  on  Oct.  17th,  next  on  Nov.  lOth,  and  again  on  Dec. 
7th.  A  Liophis  at  the  London  Gardens  changed  every  few 
weeks,  and  a  Ptyas — he  of  the  lecture  exhibition  (p.  214) — 
changed  almost  once  a  month  on  an  average. 

A  curiously  beautiful  object  is  the  cast-off  coat,  and  well 
worth  an  examination.  You  discern  the  exact  form  of  the 
reptile's  head,  mouth,  and  nostrils,  the  exquisitely  transparent 
eye-covering,  the  various  forms  of  the  overlapping  or 
imbricated  folds  or  *  scales,'  and  how  admirably  the  broad 
ventral  plates  are  adapted  for  locomotion  ;  particularly 
noteworthy  too  is  the  perfect  reversion  of  this  coat  of  some 
feet  or  some  yards  in  length,  turned  inside  out  as  you  may 
turn  a  sleeve. 


The  first  time  I  watched  the  process  was  with  the  celebrated 
Hamadryad  soon  after  It  was  installed  as  a  distinguished 
inmate  at  the  Zoological  Gardens.  The  interest  attached  to 
this  OpJuophagiis  or  snake-eater  had  caused  me  to  observe 
it  on  all  possible  occasions  ;  and  as  the  whole  front  of  its 
cage  was  clear  glass  at  that  time,  the  spectator  could  easily 
see  all  that  occurred  within. 

Will  the  reader  once  more  accompany  me  in  imagination 
to  the  Gardens,  and  see  how  a  snake  performs  Its  toilet  t  I 
have  watched  many  since  then,  and  have  observed  the  same 
proceeding  In  them  all,  those  in  good  health  and  able  to 
assist  themselves  ;  in  others  it  is  a  literal  desquamation  or 
peeling  off  of  scales  or  fragments  in  a  dry  state.  Encouraged 
by  the  very  recent  statement  in  a  highly  scientific  journal, 
that  no  one  Is  supposed  ever  to  have  witnessed  the  sloughing 
of  snakes,  I  venture  to  again  describe  what  I  saw,  having 
already  done  so  in  the  Dublin  University  Magazine  in 
Dec.  1875,  and  In  Aunt  Judy  s  Magazine  (Sept.  1874),  and 

We  stand  before  the  cage  of  the  interesting  Hamadryad 
{Ophiophagiis  elaps).  His  name  at  once  tells  us  that  he  Is 
fond  of  trees  as  well  as  of  snakes ;  but,  alas !  there  Is  no 
tree  in  his  cage,  not  even  an  old  bough  on  which  to  exercise 
his  climbing  propensities.  He  is  wonderfully  restless  to-day, 
crawling  ceaselessly  about  as  if  In  search  of  something. 
This,  however,  cannot  be  his  object ;  for  his  head  is  not  raised 
In  observation,  but  is  close  to  the  shingle,  as  if  too  heavy  to 
lift.  He  seems  to  be  pushing  it  before  him  in  a  very  strange 
manner,  and  Is  evidently  suffering  discomfort  of  some  sort. 
All    round  his  cage  he  goes,  against  the  edge  of  the  tank, 

334  SNAKES. 

still  pushing  and  rubbing  his  head,  now  under  his  blanket, 
or  against  any  projecting  surface,  under  again,  close  to  the 
floor,  restlessly  on  and  on  in  these  untiring  perambulations  ; 
what  can  be  the  cause  ?  After  a  tedious  while  *  Ophio ' — as 
his  admirers  call  him — varies  his  movements,  but  only  to 
turn  the  chin  upwards  and  push  his  head  sideways  over 
the  shingle.  Now  the  other  side  he  pushes  along  :  the  action 
is  like  that  of  a  cat  rubbing  her  head  against  your  chair. 
Now  he  turns  his  head  completely  over,  so  that  the  top  of  it 
may  come  in  for  its  share  of  rubbing ;  and  such  for  a 
considerable  time  are  his  persistent  movements,  while  we 
watch  him  wonderingly,  and  at  length  point  him  out  to  the 
keeper  inquiringly. 

*  Going  to  change,'  said  Holland.  *  That's  the  way  they 
always  do.' 

To  you  and  me,  dear  reader,  the  sight  is  novel  and 
interesting  ;  so  let  us  continue  to  watch,  glad  that  nothing 
more  serious  is  the  matter  with  this  rare  and  valuable  snake 
than  doffing  an  old  coat. 

And  soon  we  see  the  skin  separating  at  the  lips,  where, 
no  doubt,  it  has  caused  irritation  and  induced  that  incessant 
rubbing.  Now  the  entire  upper  lip  is  free,  and  the  loose 
portion  laps  back  as  Ophio  pursues  his  course.  Next  we 
see  the  skin  of  the  under  lip  detaching  itself;  and  that  is  also 
reversed,  the  two  portions  above  and  below  the  jaw  increas- 
ing every  moment  and  folding  farther  and  farther  back 
with  the  ceaseless  friction  until  they  look  like  a  cape  or  hood 
round  Ophio's  neck,  from  which  his  clean  bright  head 
emerges.  Hitherto  the  process  has  been  tedious,  but  now 
the   ribs  are  reached,  and    they  take  part  in  the  work  and 


facilitate  matters  greatly.  The  snake  has  no  longer  to  rub 
himself  so  vigorously,  but  simply  to  keep  moving ;  and  at 
every  step,  so  to  speak — that  is,  with  every  pair  of  ribs  in 
succession  beginning  at  the  neck — the  large  ventral  scale 
belonging  to  that  pair  is  shoved  off,  carrying  with  it  the 
complete  circle  of  scales.  With  an  almost  imperceptible 
nudge  each  pair  of  ribs  eases  off  a  portion,  which  continually 
lengthening  as  it  is  vacated,  and  reversed  of  course,  folds 
back  more  and  more,  till  Ophio  looks  as  if  he  were  crawling 
out  of  a  silken  tube.  As  he  thus  proceeds,  now  very 
rapidly,  he  emerges  bright  and  beautiful — six  inches,  a  foot, 
two  feet  ;  and  all  the  while  each  pair  of  ribs  successively 
performs  its  part  with  that  nudging  sort  of  action,  like 
elbowing  off  a  coat  sleeve.  If  we  had  begun  to  count  from 
the  very  first  pair,  and  if  he  had  not  gone  under  his  blanket 
during  the  process,  we  could  have  told  the  precise  number 
of  pairs  of  ribs  which  he  has  to  assist  his  toilet.  He  had  two 
vards  and  a  half  of  old  coat  to  walk  out  of,  but  this  he 
achieves  in  far  less  time  than  it  took  him  to  get  his  head 
clear.  In  his  native  tree  or  jungle  he  would  have  found 
leaves  and  underbrush  to  aid  the  operation  ;  and  it  would  be 
a  great  kindness  to  snakes  in  captivity  to  provide  them  with 
wisps  of  straw,  when  sloughing,  or  some  rough  rubbish  in 
their  cages.  Soft  blankets  and  smooth  wood-work  do  not 
offer  sufficient  resistance  for  them. 

The  constricting  snakes  are  less  at  a  loss.  From  their 
pliancy  of  motion,  and  their  habits  of  coiling — from  the  fact  of 
their  'whole  body  being  a  hand,'  as  we  have  already  seen, 
they  can  assist  themselves  by  their  own  coils  passing  through 
them,  and  so  helping  to  drag  off  the  slough. 

336  SNAKES, 

Those  who  have  kept  snakes  tell  us  that  the  tame  ones 
will  even  leave  the  slough  in  the  hand,  if  you  hold  them 
during  the  process,  and  permit  them  to  pass  gently  through 
the  closed  fingers.  Owen,  in  his  Anatomy  of  the  Vertebrates y 
mentions  as  a  not  unfrequent  action,  that  when  the  head  is 
free  from  the  slough  the  snake  brings  forward  the  tail,  and 
coils  it  transversely  round  the  head,  then  pushes  itself  through 
the  coil,  threading  its  body  through  this  caudal  ring. 

But  we  have  left  our  captive  w^ith  still  about  a  foot  and  a 
half  of  garment  to  get  rid  of,  and  this  is  not  much  less 
difficult  to  accomplish  than  the  head-gear.  He  has  arrived 
at  the  last  pair  of  ribs,  and  now,  without  such  agency  to  free 
the  tail  cuticle,  he  more  than  ever  needs  some  opposing 
obstacle.  He  has  only  his  blanket,  however,  to  pass  under  ; 
and  at  last,  by  dragging  himself  along,  the  process  is  com- 
pleted, the  extreme  few  inches  sliding  off  unreversed. 

On  several  subsequent  occasions  the  Hamadryad  has  left 
the  entire  tail,  often  nearly  all  of  it,  unreversed,  as  do  many 
other  snakes.  Sometimes  by  a  succession  of  jerks  they 
manage  to  get  rid  of  this  portion  ;  sometimes  a  comrade 
happens  to  pass  over  the  slough — a  great  assistance,  as 
affording  resistance.  I  observed  this  particularly  in  a  small 
constrictor,  one  of  the  three  that  entrapped  two  or  three 
sparrows  in  as  many  coils  at  the  same  moment.  In  this  case 
the  whole  process  occupied  less  than  ten  minutes.  After 
rubbing  its  head  against  the  gravel,  and  turning  it  completely 
over  to  free  itself  from  the  upper  shields,  its  ribs  took  chief 
part  as  usual,  and  I  noted  particularly  that  each  pair  moved 
in  concert,  and  not  alternately.  This  little  snake  went  round 
close  under  the  slanting  edge  of  his  bath-pan,  which  afforded 


him  some  assistance,  and  by  the  time  he  reappeared  in  front 
the  whole  slough  was  discarded,  excepting  a  few  inches  of 
tail.  These  few  inches  caused  some  trouble,  until  his  friend 
the  python  happened  to  pass  over  it,  when  with  one  final 
jerk  the  slough  was  free  and  entire  from  lip  to  tip.  It  was 
the  quickest  and  most  complete  sloughing  I  have  ever 

When  all  was  over,  the  large,  beautiful  black  eyes  of  this 
four-striped  or  '  four-rayed  '  snake  were  particularly  brilliant, 
as  the  little  constrictor  looked  about  and  watched  observantly, 
rejoicing  in  his  newly-found  faculty,  after  the  blindness  of  the 
preceding  days.  Often  the  snakes  are  shy,  and  change  at 
night ;  the  tamer  ones,  however,  undress  when  it  suits  them, 
affording  frequent  opportunities  for  observation. 

The  slough  when  first  discarded  is  moist  and  flabby  ;  but  it 
soon  dries,  and  then  in  substance  is  as  much  like  what  is 
called  '  gold-beater's  skin  '  as  anything  else,  though  a  stronger 
texture  is  observable  in  the  head-shields  and  the  ventral 

The  size  of  the  scales  does  not  appear  to  bear  any  very 
regular  correspondence  with  the  size  of  their  owner ;  for  you 
will  notice  that  some  snakes  only  three  feet  in  length,  have 
larger  scales  than  others  three  yards  in  length.  Some  of  the 
immense  pythons  have  smaller  scales  than  a  rattlesnake  ;  and 
again,  snakes  of  similar  dimensions  have  scales  different  both 
in  size  and  form.  As  great  a  variety  is  seen  in  the  form  and 
arrangement  of  scales  as  of  shields. 

Snakes  are  to  a  certain  extent  invalids  previous  to  the 
shedding  of  their  skin,  temporarily  blind,  courting  retirement, 
and    declining    food ;    but    they   recover    triumphantly   the 

33«  •'  SNAXES. 

moment  the  slough  is  discarded.  They  then  appear  to 
rejoice  in  a  new  existence,  their  functions  are  in  fullest 
activity,  their  appetite  keen.  At  this  time  the  poisonous 
kinds  are  most  to  be  dreaded,  probably  from  the  venom 
having  accumulated  during  the  quiescent  condition. 

At  this  time,  too,  their  colours  show  to  the  greatest 
advantage,  their  eyes  are  brightest,  and  their  personal 
comfort  no  doubt  is  enhanced  in  every  way. 
f,  Before  taking  leave  of  the  integument,  a  few  words  about 
the  markings  or  patterns  and  colouring  of  serpents  may 
not  come  amiss.  Mr.  Ruskin,  in  his  celebrated  lecture  on 
Snakes,  exhibited  to  his  delighted  audience  a  fine  anaconda 
skin,  and  drew  attention  to  the  '  disorderly  spots,  without 
system,'  with  which  this  snake  is  marked.  TacJies  a  tortiie, 
as  it  was  at  first  described  ;  and  by  Dumeril  as  marked 
'  avec  de  grandes  taches  senices  sans  ordfe.'  Notwithstanding 
the  irregularity  the  skin  is  handsome.  The  oval  spots 
of  various  sizes  and  at  unequal  distances  have  still  a  cha- 
racter of  their  own,  as  much  as  the  spots  of  the  leopard 
or  the  stripes  of  the  zebra,  no  two  of  which  are  placed  with 
mathematical  precision.  Mr.  Ruskin  had  but  few  kind 
words  to  bestow  on  ophidian  reptiles,  but  the  disorderly 
patterns  of  their  coats  he  greatly  disapproved.  Moreover, 
the  great  artist  was  inclined  to  pronounce  a  sweeping  verdict 
on  the  conspicuous  '  ugliness  of  the  whole  poisonous  families ' 
without  exception. 

Now  unfortunately  we  have  had  occasion  to  lament  the 
good  looks  of  many  venomous  kinds  which  are  easily  mis- 
taken for  harmless  snakes.  Some  of  the  American  elapidce 
are  amongst  the  most  beautiful,  with  their  black,  white,  and 


crimson  rings.  The  African  viper  and  her  young  one  baffle 
the  artist's  palette  in  their  prismatic  hues,  as  do  several  other 
of  the  horned  snakes.  Indeed,  for  rich  colourings  the 
venomous  kinds  rather  carry  the  day.  The  forni^  it  is  true, 
is  often  clumsy  and  ungraceful  in  the  vipers,  but  as  an  ex- 
ception we  have  '  vipera  clegans^^  and  others  of  less  ugly 
and  slighter  forms. 

Since  the  subject  was  thus  presented  to  us,  I  have,  how- 
ever, observed  the  markings  more  closely;  and  it  really  is 
curious  as  well  as  interesting  to  note  how  very  nearly  the 
various  patterns  approach  to  a  perfectly  geometrical  design, 
yet  failing  in  the  same  manner  that  a  bad  workman  would 
fail  in  imitating  the  pattern  given  him  to  copy. 
'  To  Dr.  Stradling  I  am  indebted  for  a  very  handsome 
boa  skin  from  Brazil.  Spread  upon  the  carpet  it  is  like 
a  piece  of  oilcloth,  and  at  the  first  glance  I  exclaimed, 
'  Even  Mr.  Ruskin  could  not  disapprove  of  this.'  But  on 
closer  inspection  one  was  obliged  to  admit  '  disorder ' 
throughout.  The  skin  is  about  ten  feet  long,  and  the 
whole  way  down  the  centre  of  the  back  runs  a  pattern 
which     an     accomplished     artificer    would     thus     represent. 

There  is  evident  intention  of  two  straight  lines  with  points 
at  equal  distances,  a  very  pretty  centre  of  rich  brown,  picked 
out  with  darker  shades  and  spots  of  white.  Throughout 
the  entire  ten  feet  of  skin  most  of  the  points  and  intermediate 



centres  had  a  splash  or  spot  of  white,  and  most  of  the  points 
were  opposite,  but  no  two  feet  consecutively  could  I  find 
with  better  finished  markings  than  this. 

Exact  pattern  with  the  lateral  spots. 

The  outer  spots  also  were  evidently  of  triangular  inten- 
tions, and  for  the  most  part  occupying  the  spaces  midway 
between  the  points.  These,  of  lighter  tints,  also  run  the 
whole  length  of  the  snake,  the  pattern  of  course  diminishing 
with  the  size  tailwards,  but  varying  in  no  other  way.  The 
question  is  not  whether  the  strictly  geometrical  or  the  less 
perfect  design  would  be  the  handsomer,  or  we  might  give 
the  preference  to  the  pattern  as  we  find  it ;  but  looking 
closely  at  any  elaborately-marked  snake,  it  certainly  is 
curious  to  perceive  that  in  every  case  there  is  this  same 
attempt  at  something  too  difficult  to  accomplish,  as  when 
a  novice  in  fancy-work  does  her  stitches  wrong.  The  same 
thing  is  seen  in  the  snakes  of  the  frontispiece,  and  the  same 
is  seen  again  even  in  this  ^g;:^j-;;?^^:^j^-^"<r"-;-^^ 
simple  pattern,  a  chain  <iZX^^l7^~^'^s^_,.^5^^^-^^^---,^^ 
running   down   the    back  pI^IIiw^l^^^kT"""'"^ 

of  little  Echis  cari7iata.  The  spaces  are  unequal,  the  black 
cross  bands  imperfect,  and  the  centre  spots  some  round, 
some  oval,  some  almost  absent. 



May  we  conclude  that  this  incompleteness  is  a  sign 
that  the  design  is  not  fixed  by  long  inheritance?  But 
if  it  were  so,  and  presented  to  us  with  geometrical 
precision,  it  is  doubtful  whether  we  could  admire  it 
equally ! 



IN  the  preceding  pages  it  may  have  been  observed  that  the 
adage,  '  There  are  no  rules  without  exceptions,'  occurs 
so  frequently  in  ophidian  physiology  that  the  latter  are 
almost  in  the  majority.  Concerning  the  teeth  especially,  the 
forms  of  dentition  in  the  various  families,  the  distinction  of 
species  by  them,  the  size  and  position  of  poison  fangs,  etc.,  the 
rules  involve  so  many  exceptions  that  we  can  perhaps  render 
the  subject  less  perplexing  by  dispensing  with  rules  altogether. 
*  The  gradations  of  teeth  are  very  imperceptible,'  said  Prof 
Huxley  in  his  lecture  at  the  London  Institution.  So  numerous 
are  their  stages  of  development  that  there  is  really  no  well- 
defined  gap  between  the  venomous  and  the  non-venomous 
species.  '  We  do  not  know  for  certain  whether  the  ordinary 
teeth  are  poisonous  or  not,'  Huxley  also  said.  The  recent 
researches  into  the  nature  of  salivary  secretions  will  throw 
more  light  on  this  subject.  A  large  non-venomous  snake, 
like  other  normally  harmless  animals,  if  biting  angrily,  with 
its    abundant    salivary  glands    pouring   secretions    into    its 



mouth,   might   Inflict   a  very  ugly  wound,   especially   on   a 
feeble  or  frightened  victim. 

A  few  rules  may,  however,  safely  be  offered  as  'without 
exception,'  and  these  I  will  point  out  in  order  to  clear  the 
way  a  little  towards  a  better  comprehension  of  the  exceptional 

All  true  snakes,  poisonous  or  not,  that  have  teeth  at  all, 
have  the  six  jaws  described  in  the  first  chapter,  viz.  the 
right  and  left  upper  jaw,  the  right  and  left  lower  jaw,  and 
the  right  and  left  palate  jaw.  The  latter  are  called  'jaws,' 
not  anatomically,  but  merely  as  answering  the  same  purpose, 
being  furnished  with  teeth  ;  each  true  jaw  and  the  palate 
being  considered  as  two  or  a  pair,  on  account  of  the 
independent  action  imparted  to  each  by  the  especial  muscles 
and  the  elastic  tissue  which  unites  them,  where  In  the  higher 
animals  they  are  consolidated. 

With  but  one  exception  (the  egg-eating  Oligodon  or 
Anodon  family)  all  other  true  serpents,  whether  venomous  or 
not,  possess  the  two  rows  of  palate  teeth. 

All  can  move  or  use  each  of  the  six  jaws,  or  any  two, 
three,  or  more  of  them  independently,  as  we  observed  in 
feeding,  some  of  the  six  holding  the  prey  while  others  move 
on.  Some  writers  have  conveyed  the  Idea  that  there  is  a 
regular  alternation  and  even  rotation  of  the  jaws  in  feeding, 
No.  I,  2,  and  so  on  in  succession  till  all  the  six  have  moved, 
and  then  No.  i  in  its  turn  again  ;  but  observation  inclines  me 
rather  to  decide  that  there  is  no  other  rule  than  the  feeder's 
individual  convenience,  according  to  what  its  teeth  may  be 
grasping,  any  more  than  there  is  in  other  creatures  that 
without  reflection  or  intent,  and  not  strictly  in  turn,  eat  now 

344  SNAKES. 

on  one  side  of  the  mouth  and  now  on  the  other  (except  in 
the  case  of  some  poor  mortal  with  the  toothache,  when, 
having  only  the  two  jaws,  his  distressful  efforts  are  chiefly 
directed  towards  relieving  that  side  of  its  ordinary  duties). 
Snakes,  for  aught  we  knov/,  may  have  the  toothache :  loose 
teeth  they  frequently  have  ;  they  suffer  from  gum  and  mouth 
affections  too,  and  no  doubt  can  at  such  times  relieve  a 
whole  jaw  of  its  work. 

In  all  true  snakes  the  teeth  are  long,  conical,  and  curved  : 
not  planted  perpendicularly,  but  directed  backwards  ;  these 
long,  fine,  claw-shaped  instruments  presenting  a  formidable 
obstacle  against  the  retreat  of  a  creature  once  seized  by 
them.  Their  arrangement  is  a  species  of  trap,  like  the  wires 
of  a  mouse-trap :  to  enter  being  easy  enough,  but  to  escape 
against  the  spikes  being  impossible. 

All  snakes  renew  their  teeth  throughout  life.  Except 
fishes,  therefore,  no  creatures  are  so  abundantly  supplied 
with  teeth  as  are  the  Ophidia.  ^ 

On  account  of  this  continual  loss  and  replacement  of  teeth, 
the  number  is  rarely  so  fixed  and  determinate  as  to  be 
characteristic  of  the  species.  Probably  no  two  snakes,  not 
even  brothers  and  sisters  of  the  same  brood,  may  possess 
precisely  the  same  number  of  teeth  at  a  given  age  ;  because 
they  are  so  easily  loosened  and  lost,  that  the  normal  number 
might  rarely  occur  in  all  the  members  of  the  same  family  at 
the  same  time.  In  the  scientific  language  of  Rymer  Jones, 
*  the  facility  for  developing  new  tooth  germs  is  unlimited,  and 
the  phenomena  of  dental  decadence  and  replacement  are 
manifested  in  every  period  of  life.' 

Says  Nicholson,  *  The  teeth  are  replaced  not  merely  when 


accident  has  broken  off  the  old  ones,  but  they  are  all  shed  at 
more  or  less  regular  intervals,  coinciding  with  the  casting  of 
the  epidermis.'  Not  on  each  occasion  of  sloughing,  as  we 
may,  I  think,  understand  this,  but,  like  the  casting  of  cuticle, 
contingently,  according  to  the  condition  of  the  individual. 
Not  altogether,  either,  or  at  certain  periods  of  life,  as  a  child 
loses  his  first  teeth  and  gets  a  second  crop,  or  as  an  adult  cuts 
his  wisdom  teeth,  but  '  a  crop  of  young  teeth  work  their 
way  into  the  intervals  of  the  old  teeth,  and  gradually  expel 
these  latter.'  All  the  spaces  and  depressions  between  the 
maxillary  and  palatine  rows  are  occupied  by  the  matrix  of 
tooth  germs.  Not  a  cut  can  be  made  in  this  part  of  the 
palate  without  the  knife  turning  up  a  number  of  young 
teeth  in  every  stage  of  development.^ 

Independently  of  this  accidental  number,  the  maxillary 
presents  certain  phases  which  characterize  families.  For 
instance,  a  true  viperine  snake  has  in  the  upper  jaw  fangs 
only :  non-venomous  snakes  have  a  whole  row  of  from  fifteen 
to  twenty-five  maxillary  teeth,  and  in  intermediate  species 
their  normal  numbers  vary  considerably.  Some  of  the 
highly  poisonous  families,  notably  the  cobras  and  the  sea 
snakes,  have  a  few  simple  teeth  in  addition  to  fangs.  The 
length  of  the  jaw,  therefore,  diminishes  in  proportion  to  the 
number  of  teeth  it  bears.  Only  the  viperine  snakes 
are  limited  to  the  poison  fang  in  the  upper  jaw ;  but 
fangs,  like  the  simple  teeth,  are  shed,  broken,  or  lost,  and 
renewed  continually. 

Behind  the  one  in  use — the  functional  fang — others  in 
various  stages  of  development  are  found — '  a  perfect  store- 

"^  Indian  Snakes,  by  Ed.  Nicholson,  M.D,     Madras,  1S70. 

346  SNAKES. 

house  of  new  fangs,'  as  Mr.  F.  Buckland  in  his  facetious  style 
called  them  ;  '  lying  one  behind  another  like  a  row  of  pandean 
pipes.'  In  the  skeletons  of  viperine  snakes  these  may  readily 
be  observed.  In  the  living  example  they  are  enclosed  in  a 
capsule,  hidden  by  the  loose  gum  sheath,  called  a  gingeval 
envelope.  So  when  the  functional  fang  meets  with  an 
accident,  or  falls  out  in  the  order  of  things,  the  supplementary 
fangs  in  turn  supply  its  place,  each  becoming  in  time  firmly 
fixed  to  the  jaw-bone,  and  ready  to  perform  the  office  of  its 

Poison  fangs  succeed  each  other  from  hohmd,  forzuards  ; 
the  simple  teeth  from  the  inner  side,  outwards. 

Before  proceeding  further,  it  may  be  well  to  explain  that 
what  is  meant  by  the  true  snakes  in  the  foregoing  rules,  are 
those  which  do  not  possess  the  lizard  features ;  Anguis 
fragilis^  and  some  of  the  burrowing  snakes  which  approach 
the  lizards,  not  having  the  palate  teeth.  But  here  again  we 
are  tripped  up  with  exceptions,  since  we  are  told  that  in 
dentition  the  boas  are  allied  to  the  lizards;  yet  they  have 
palate  teeth. 

The  importance  of  dentition  in  distinguishing  snakes  is 
seen  in  the  names  assigned  to  them  from  their  teeth  alone. 
In  giving  a  few  of  these  terms  we  enable  the  reader  to 
perceive  at  once,  not  only  how  very  varied  are  the  systems 
of  dentition,  but  in  what  way  they  vary,  the  words  them- 
selves conveying  the  description. 

The  names  here  given  are  without  reference  to  venomous 
or  non-venomous  serpents,  but  only  as  belonging  to  certain 
families  whose  teeth  present  characteristics  sufficiently 
marked  to  be  named  by  them. 



From  odotis,  odonios,  a  tooth. 

Boodon,     . 
Cynodon,   . 
Deirodon,  . 
Dinodon,    . 
Lycodon,    . 
Ogmodon,  . 
Oligodon,  . 
Sepedon,     . 
Tomodon, . 
Xenodon,   . 


Ox  tooth. 

Dog's  tooth. 

Neck  tooth. 

Double  tooth. 

Grooved  or  carved  tooth. 

Abnormal  tooth. 

Equal  toothed. 

Wolfs  tooth. 

Furrowed  or  grooved  tooth. 

Few  toothed. 

vSpine  toothed. 

Noxious  tooth,  or  a  tooth  causing  putridity, 

Stump  tooth. 

Strange  tooth. 

In  Dumeril's  system  very  many  families,  including  some- 
times several  of  the  above,  are  grouped  according  to  their 
teeth,  thus  : — 

Ag  lyphodon  ics, 







Solcnog  lyph  es, 

Teeth  not  carved  or  notched. 

Whole  or  entire  teeth. 

Without  whole  or  entire  teeth. 

Without  front  teeth. 

With  even  teeth. 

Grooved  at  the  back,  or  the  back  teeth  grooved. 

Grooved  in  front,  or  the  front  teeth  grooved. 

Cut  or  carved  with  a  canal. 

And  some  others  whose  names  are  equally  descriptive. 

These  various  characters,  with  the  exception  of  Aprotero- 
dontes^  which  refers  to  the  under  jaw,  have  reference  to  the 
upper  jaw  only.  It  might  be  tedious  to  the  reader  to  enter 
into  a  minute  description  of  each  of  the  above  groups : 
sufficient  for  our  present  purpose  is  it  to  show  that  such 
varieties  exist,  and  that  a  simple,  even  row  of  teeth,  as 
a  family  distinction,  is  oftener  the  exception  than  the  rule. 

348  SNAKES. 

Some  of  the  teeth  increase  in  size  posteriorly,  others  are  largest 
anteriorly ;  others,  again,  are  larger  towards  the  middle 
of  the  jaw,  and  decrease  at  either  end.  Some  harmless 
snakes  have  '  fangs,'  that  is  to  say,  fang-like  teeth,  but  not 
connected  with  any  poison  gland,  and  at  the  back  instead 
of  the  front  of  the  jaw.  Again,  there  are  some  non- venomous 
species  that  have  the  power  of  moving  these  fang-like 
teeth,  raising  or  depressing  them  as  vipers  move  their  fangs, 
and  as  v/ill  be  further  described  presently.  Some  grooved 
teeth  convey  an  acrid  saliva,  others  are  without  any  modi- 
fication of  saliva,  the  long  teeth  being  of  use  in  holding 
thick-skinned  prey. 

Thus  we  find  every  gradation  both  in  number  and  in 
form  until  we  come  to  the  true  fang,  the  '  murderous  tooth ' 
of  the  terrible  cobra,  the  hydrophidcs,  and  the  viperidce.  And 
noteworthy  it  is  that  the  fewer  the  teeth  in  the  maxillary 
bone  the  more  terrible  are  they.  Fig.  A  of  the  four 
illustrations  given  opposite  is  the  jaw-bone  of  the  Indian 
Rat  snake,  Ptyas  vmcosus^  already  '  honourably  mentioned ' 
in  these  pages.  The  illustration  being  taken  from  Fayrer's 
TJianatopJiidia,  may  be  received  as  a  faithful  representation. 
This  conveys  a  good  idea  of  jaw^s  generally  in  non-venomous 
snakes  of  that  size,  say  from  six  to  ten  feet  long.  In  some 
of  the  smaller  kinds  the  jaw  and  palate  teeth  are  so  fine 
as  to  be  almost  imperceptible  to  the  naked  eye.  To  the 
touch  they  feel  like  points  of  the  finest  pins.  Draw  your 
finger  along  or  press  it  against  a  row  of  'minikin  pins,' 
and  you  will  form  a  correct  idea  of  these  tiny  weapons. 
I  have  often  felt  when  I  could  not  see  them  in  the  mouth 
of  a  small  harmless  snake.     Pass  the  tip  of  your  little  finger 



gently  along  them  towards  the  throat,  and  they  are  almost 
imperceptible  even  to  the  touch ;  but  in  withdrawing  your 
finger  against  the  points,  you  feel  how  excessively  fine  they 

The  accompanying  illustrations  are  from  nature,  and  exem- 
plify the  various  lengths  of  jaw  in  four  snakes,  not  differing 
very  greatly  in  size. 


Four  jaws.     From  Fayrer's  T Jianatophidia  of  India. 

Fig.  A.  Ptyas  mticosus,  with  simple  teeth  only.  That 
they  are  not  very  regular  is  probably  owing  to  the  stages  of 
growth  in  those  that  have  replaced  others. 

Fig.  B.  A  venomous  snake,  Biuigams,  the  '  Krait,'  with  a 
fixed  fang  in  front  and  a  few  simple  teeth  behind  it. 

Fig.  C.  Jaw  of  the  cobra,  with  a  longer  fixed  fang,  and 
one  or  two  simple  teeth  behind  it. 

Fig.  D.  The  shortest  jaw  of  them  all,  that  of  the  Indian 
viper  Daboia,  in  which  the  maxillary  is  reduced  to  a  mere 
wedge  of  bone.  These,  with  four  or  five  reserve  fangs,  are  here 
folded  back  '  depressed.'     A  few  palate  teeth  are  also  seen. 

Having  given  a  slight  sketch  of  the  various  forms  of 
dentition,  and  arrived  at  'fangs,'  we  may  recapitulate,  in 
what  Nicholson  calls  'roughly  speaking,'  four  stages  of 
development  in  these  latter. 

350  SNAKES. 

First,  the  '  fangs '  of  the  harmless  snakes,  such  as  Lycodon, 
Xeiiodoii,  Heterodoii,  etc.,  which  have  no  poison  gland,  but 
whose  saliva  may  be  slightly  and  occasionally  injurious. 

Secoiidly,  those  having  a  salivary  gland  secreting  poison 
and  a  grooved  fang  in  front  of  some  simple  teeth,  Hydro- 

Thirdly,  the  maxillary  bone  shorter,  bearing  one  poison 
fang  with  a  perfect  canal,  and  one  or  two  teeth  behind  it. 
In  some  of  these  there  is  a  slight  mobility. 

Fourthly,  the  maxillary  bone  so  reduced  as  to  be  higher 
than  long,  and  bearing  only  a  single  tooth,  viz.  a  long, 
curved,  and  very  mobile  fang,  Viperina. 

These  four  classes,  be  it  observed,  are  only  designated 
'  roughly  speaking.'  Nicholson  describes  a  close  gradation 
in  the  development  of  the  poison  glands  also  to  correspond 
with  those  almost  imperceptible  stages.  The  poison  gland  is 
after  all  only  a  modified  salivary  gland.  It  lies  behind  the  eye, 
whence  the  venom  is  conveyed  by  a  duct  to  the  base  of  the 
fang,  down  along  it,  and  sometimes  through  it,  and  is  emitted 
at  what  we  may  for  the  present  call  the  point,  into  the  wound 
made  by  it,  something  on  the  principle  of  an  insect's  sting. 
As  when  inserting  the  sting  the  pressure  forces  the  poison 
out  of  a  gland  at  its  base,  so  does  the  pressure  of  certain 
muscles  act  upon  the  poison  gland  when  a  snake  opens 
its  mouth  to  strike.  In  some  of  the  most  venomous,  viz. 
the  viperine  families,  the  largely  developed  glands  give  that 
peculiar  breadth  to  the  head.  There  is  a  hideous,  repulsive 
look  about  some  of  these,  that  seems  to  announce  their 
deadly  character,  even  to  those  who  see  one  for  the  first 
time.     The  evil  expression  of  the  eye,  with  its  linear  pupil ; 


the  peculiar  curve  of  the  mouth,  with  its  very  wide  gape 
downwards,  and  then  up  again,  are  unmistakeably  treacherous, 
venomous,  vicious. 

Like  all  other  animal  secretions,  the  poison  is  produced, 
expended,  and  renewed,  but  not  always  with  equal  rapidity  ; 
climate,  season,  and  temperature,  as  well  as  the  vigour  of 
the  reptile,  influencing  this  secretion.  The  hotter  the 
weather,  the  more  active  the  serpent  and  all  its  functions. 
When  the  poison  gland  is  full  and  the  snake  angry,  you  may 
see  the  venom  exuding  from  the  point  of  the  fang,  and  by  a 
forcible  expiration  the  reptile  can  eject  it.  I  have  seen 
this  in  the  little  Echis  carinata  and  its  congener  the  Cerastes. 
I  am  not  certain  whether  the  Cerastes  hisses  or  not,  but  under 
terror  or  excitement  it  moves  itself  about  in  '  mystic  coils ' 
as  Echis  does,  producing  a  similar  rustling  noise  with  its 
scales ;  but  both  of  them,  if  angry,  will  strike  at  you  with  a 
sound  which  may  be  compared  with  a  sneeze  or  a  spit,  at 
the  same  time  gnashing  their  mobile  fangs  and  letting  you 
see  that  they  have  plenty  of  venom  at  your  service.  They 
may  almost  be  said  to  '  spit '  at  you,  though  literally  it  is  the 
mouth  'watering  with  poison,'  combined  with  the  natural 
impulse  to  strike,  which  produces  this  effect.  We  can, 
however,  by  this  judge  of  the  force  with  which  the  venom  is 
expelled,  which  in  a  large  viper  must  be  considerable. 

Travellers  have  told  us  that  a  serpent  *  spouts  poison  into 
your  eye.*  If  an  angry  one  strike,  but  miss  its  aim,  the 
poison  is  then  seen  to  fly  from  its  mouth,  sometimes  to  a 
distance  of  several  feet.  Whether  a  snake  is  so  good  a 
marksman  as  to  take  certain  aim  with  this  terrible  projectile, 
or  whether  he  possess  sufficient  intelligence  to  attempt  it,  we 

352  SNAKES. 

may    doubt.    T)r.  Andrew   Smith   tells    us    that   this    belief 
prevails  among  the  natives  of  South  Africa. 

A  bright  object  always  attracts  snakes,  and  some  victim- 
ized traveller's  eyes  may  have  been  remarkably  brilliant,  and 
in  consequence  smarted  under  the  accident.  Be  that  as  it 
may,  the  poison  is  sometimes  so  abundant  that  you  may  see 
it  flow  from  the  mouth  over  the  prey.  The  glands  being 
excited,  just  as  are  the  salivary  glands  of  mammals,  the 
mouth  'waters'  with  poison.  In  the  Hamadryad  I  have 
seen  it  flow,  or  more  correctly  *  dribble,'  down  over  the 
snake  it  was  eating.  This  noxious  secretion  assists  digestion 
in  the  same  way  that  the  ordinary  saliva  in  the  human 
mouth  does.  Says  Dr.  Carpenter,  '  The  saliva  prepares  food 
for  the  business  of  the  stomach ;  and  if  the  ordinary 
operations  of  mastication  and  insalivation  be  neglected,  the 
stomach  has  to  do  the  whole  work  of  preparation  as  well  as 
its  own  especial  duty  of  the  digestion.'  That  the  digestive 
powers  of  snakes  are  strong,  we  know  from  the  fact  that 
nearly  all  animal  substances  are  converted  to  nutriment  in 
the  stomach  of  a  healthy  snake.  The  abundant  saliva 
must  be  a  powerful  agent  in  the  process,  because  mastication 
takes  no  share  in  the  work.  This  has  become  more  than 
mere  conjecture,  since  recent  experiments  have  shown  that 
snake  venom  possesses  strong  peptic  qualities ;  that,  like 
pancreatic  juice,  it  will  even  dissolve  raw  meat  and  albu- 
minous substances.  Recent  experiments  have  also  shown 
that  the  salivary  gland  is  the  laboratory  in  which  the  poison 
of  venomous  serpents  is  elaborated  ;  that  ordinary  saliva  is 
there  intensified,  concentrated,  and  endowed  with  its  toxic 


During  the  two  hundred  years  that  have  witnessed  the 
development  of  natural  history  into  a  science,  many  and 
various  have  been  the  methods  of  zoological  and  particularly 
of  ophiological  classification,  A  few  of  these  methods  are 
sketched  out  in  chap.  ii.  It  will  be  seen  'that  the  cha- 
racter of  the  teeth  had  not  for  a  long  while  much  weight 
in  classifying  snakes.  According  to  Schlegel,  Klein  in  1755 
was  the  first  to  separate  the  venomous  from  the  non-venom- 
ous snakes  in  classification.  But  after  him  Linnaeus,  then 
the  greatest  naturalist  of  modern  times,  distinguished  snakes 
chiefly  by  the  form  of  the  ventral  and  sub-caudal  plates  ; 
so  that  in  the  six  genera  which  he  established  {AmphisbcBua, 
Cecilia,  Crotaliis,  Boa,  Coluber ^  and  Anguis),  rattlesnakes  and 
boas,  colubers  and  vipers,  with  others  of  the  most  opposite 
characters,  were  jumbled  up  together;  and  the  little  burrowing 
blindworm  and  the  venomous  sea  snakes  were^  supposed 
to  be  related,  because  they  neither  of  them  had  ventral 
scales !  On  account  of  his  vast  researches  and  great 
reputation,  subsequent  naturalists  were  slow  to  entirely 
overthrow  his  system  and  to  venture  on  reforms  of  their 
own,  and  our  cyclopedias  are  suffering  to  the  present  day 
from  the  confusion  of  the  various  methods  of  classification 
adopted  by  so  many  naturalists,  as  a  few  quotations 
presently  will  show.  Dandin,  1802,  though  his  work  was 
reckoned  by  Schlegel  the  most  complete  up  to  his  time, 
comprehended  all  the  venomous  snakes  under  the  head  of 
'  vipers.'  Cuvier  divided  the  vipers  (with  crochets  mobiles) 
from  those  with  fixed  fangs  ;  but  yet  was  unsound  in  many 
other  respects,  confounding  the  Elapidcs  with  the  Viperidc^^ 
although  he  professed  to  separate  them.     Another  confusion 

354  SNAKES. 

arose  out  of  the  word  cobra,  Portuguese  for  snake,  so  that 
wherever  the  Portuguese  settled  most  snakes  were  Cobras. 
In  India  the  English  have  retained  the  name  Cobra  for 
the  snakes  with  the  hood,  which  name  is  now  confined  to 
the  one  group,  Cape/la. 

*  The  characters  of  dentition  offer  in  a  great  many  cases  a 
decisive  method  for  distinguishing  the  species,'  says  Gunther ; 
*  but  as  regards  the  combination  of  species  into  genera 
and  families,  it  is  of  no  greater  importance  than  any  other 
external  character  by  itself.  .  .  .  Still  I  am  always  glad 
to  use  the  dentition  as  one  of  the  characters  of  genera  and 
species  whenever  possible — namely,  whenever  it  corresponds 
with  the  mode  of  life,  the  general  habits,  and  the  physiology.'  ^ 

Since  the  publication  of  Dr.  Giinther's  work.  The  Reptiles 
of  British  India,  1864,  the  distinctions  of  the  various  types 
of  dentition  seem  to  have  been  more  clearly  comprehended  ; 
and '  as  this  work  is  the  accepted  authority  among  English 
ophiologists,  and  will  best  commend  itself  to  the  reader, 
it  shall  be  our  guide  in  the  present  attempt  to  simplify 
much  complication. 

The  five  groups  of  snakes  described  in  chap.  ii.  are 
divided  into  three  sub-orders  of  Ophidia  as  follows : — i. 
Ophidia  cohtbrifonnes  (the  harmless  snakes).  2.  OpJiidia 
cohibrifonnes  venenosi  (those  which,  not  having  the  viperine 
aspect  just  now  described,  are  the  more  dangerous  from 
their  innocent  appearance).  3.  Ophidia  viperiforrnes  (the 
viperine  snakes). 

Although  apparently  named  from  their  form  only,  it  is 
.   the  teeth  which  have  chiefly  to  do  with  these  latter  distinc- 

1  Introduction  to  the  Catalogue  of  the  Snakes  in  the  British  Ahiseum.,  1858. 



tions,  as  will  be  seen  on  reference  to  the  dotted  examples 
of  upper  jaws.  The  first  have  the  six  rows  of  simple  teeth 
(four  above,  as  seen,  and  the  lower  jaw  teeth),  in  all  from  80 
to  100  perhaps.  The  second  have  the  two  rows  of  palate 
teeth,  the  lower  jaw  teeth,  and  a  fixed  fang  on  each  upper 
jaw,  with  one,  two,  or  more  simple  teeth  in  addition.  The 
Australian  poisonous  serpents  are  nearly  all  of  this  group, 
the  only  viperish-looking  one,  the  'Death  adder,'  having 
fixed  fangs  like  the  cobras.  The  sea  snakes  and  the  Elapidce 
are  included.  The  third  have  only  four  rows  of  simple  teeth, 
viz.  those  of  the  lower  jaws  and  those  of  the  palate,  with  a 
solitary  moveable  fang  in  each  upper  jaw. 

From  Fayrer's  Thanatophidia.     The  four  larger  dots  represent  fangs. 

Fayrer  divides  the  poisonous  snakes  of  India,  again,  into 
four  families,  viz.  Elapidcu  and  HydropJiidce,  with  fixed 
fangs ;  and   Vipet'idcB  and  Crotalidce,  with  mobile  fangs. 

But  without  so  many  perplexing  distinctions,  I  hope 
to  be  able  to  interest  the  reader  in  that  wonderful  piece 
of  mechanism,  the  poison  fang,  and  by  the  aid  of  the 
authorities  to  represent  it  in  simple  language. 



We  have  long  been  accustomed  to  read  that  a  serpent's 
fang  is  a  'perforated  tooth'  or  a  'hollow  tube,'  as  if  a 
miniature  tusk  had  a  hole  bored  through  its  entire  length, 
the  poison  entering  at  the  root  and  flowing  out  _  h 
again  at  the  point  This  is  not  strictly  the  case. 
Fangs  in  their  construction  are  not  absolutely 
'hollow,'  with  ivory  on  the  outside  and  pulp  on 
the  inside,  but  are  as  if  you  had 
flattened  out  an  ivory  tusk  and 
folded  or  wrapped  it  over  again, 
so  as  to  form  a  pointed  tube.  It 
would  then  have  dentine  both  on 
the  outer  and  inner  surface.  This 
involution  may  be  compared  with 
that  seen  in  a  long  narrow  leaf, 
in  which  the  larva  of  an  insect 
has  enwrapped  itself  The  various 
degrees  of  involution  are  extremely 

di  1  J    L       j_i         r  Two   fangs   magnified,    showing    tlie 

OSe,    as    also  would    be   the    forms    ^nt  more  or  less  cLplete.     .,  a  section. 

of  leaves  and  the  extent  of  curling  ^""""^  ^^yr^r^  Thanatophidia. 
which  each  caterpillar  had  effected.  Some  fangs  are  folded 
so  as  to  leave  \\vQ.—join^  we  will  call  it,  easily  perceptible. 
Others  leave  a  groove  more  or  less  evident ;  while  in  others 
the  fold  is  so  complete  as  to  have  disappeared  entirely. 
Schlcgel,  in  describing  the  insensible  passage  from  solid  teeth 
to  fangs,  affirms  that  traces  of  the  groove  are  always  per- 
ceptible :  '  On  decoiivre  toiijoiirs  Ics  traces  de  la  fente  qui  reunit 
les  dctix  orifices  pour  le  veriiyi!  ^ 

In  a  mixed  collection  of  thirty  odd  fangs  of  various  snakes 

^  Physiognomic  des  sc7-pents^  par  H.  Schlegel.     Amsterdam,  1837. 


lent  to  me  by  Holland,  the  keeper,  for  examination,  and 
sent  all  together  in  a  little  box,  there  were  few  in  which  I 
could  not  discern  the  join.  The  keeper  was  not  sure  to  which 
snakes  each  belonged,  excepting  one  or  two  of  the  largest, 
which  were  those  of  a  puff  adder.  Those  of  the  larger 
Crotalidcz  I  could  identify  by  the  peculiar  curve.  In  a 
functional  fang  of  the  '  bushmaster '  {Lackesis  imitus),  which 
I  myself  took  from  its  jaw,  there  is  a  well-defined  line,  like 
a  crack,  the  whole  way  down,  from  the  base  to  the  slit ;  in 
a  rattlesnake  fang,  also  in  my  possession,  there  is  a  faint 
appearance  of  this  line  or  join  ;  and  in  a  young  Crotalus  fang 
it  is  still  there, — only  a  faint  crack,  such  as  you  would 
contemplate  with  alarm  in  your  egg-shell  china,  still  there 
it  is. 

It  is  scarcely  necessary  to  explain  that  fangs  differ  in  size 
in  different  families,  as  well  as  proportionately  to  the  size  of 
the  possessor.  In  sea  snakes  they  are  not  much  larger  than 
the  simple  teeth  behind  them.  In  the  Cobra  they  are 
larger  than  in  the  Bungarus  ;  in  the  viper  they  attain  their 
largest  size. 

But  in  one  respect  all  fangs  agree,  and  that  is  in  their 
delicacy  and  fineness.  Under  the  microscope,  the  stronger 
the  lens  the  greater  the  degree  of  exquisite  polish  and 
sharpness  revealed.  To  handle  those  of  very  young  vipers 
is  as  difficult  as  it  would  be  to  handle  fine  needle-points  of 
similar  length.  One  can  compare  them  with  nothing  else, 
except  perhaps  the  fine  thorns  of  the  sweet  briar,  which  are 
equally  unmanageable,  and,  as  compared  with  manufactured 
articles,  equally  exquisite. 

Sir  Samuel  Baker  describes  the  fangs  (both  functional  and 

35^  SNAKES. 

supplementary)  of  a  puff  adder  which  he  found.  His  words, 
if  not  strictly  scientific,  arc  so  graphic  as  to  convey  a  true 
idea  of  these  terrible  weapons.  The  viper  was  five  feet  four 
inches  long,  and  fifteen  inches  in  girth  in  its  largest  part.  The 
head  was  two  and  a  half  inches  broad.  Sir  Samuel  counted 
'  eight  teeth '  (fangs),  and  secured  five  of  them,  the  two  most 
prominent  being  nearly  one  inch  long.  'The  poison  fangs 
are  artfully  contrived,  by  some  diabolical  freak  of  nature,  as 
pointed  tubes,  through  which  the  poison  is  injected  into  the 
base  of  the  wound  inflicted.  The  extreme  point  of  the  fang 
is  solid,  and  is  so  finely  sharpened  that  beneath  a  powerful 
microscope  it  is  perfectly  smooth,  although  the  point  of  the 
finest  needle  is  rough  !'i  He  describes  the  aperture  in  the 
fang  as  like  a  tiny  slit  cut  in  a  quill. 

This  '  slit '  is  a  very  important  feature  in  the  fang,  and  is 
the  cause  of  much  trouble  in  deciding  whether  a  bitten  person 
has  been  poisoned  or  not.  It  is  in  reality  a  very  small 
space  7iear  the  point,  where  the  involution  of  the  fang  is 
incomplete,  that  is,  where  it  has  remained  unjoined.  This  is 
to  permit  the  emission  of  the  venom.  It  is  not  close  to  the 
point,  which,  as  Sir  S.  Baker  affirms,  is  solid.  Being  solid, 
it  is  stronger  and  sharper,  penetrating  the  skin  of  the  victim 
more  easily,  and  making  way  for  the  venom  which  in  viperine 
fangs  then  follows  and  escapes  through  the  slit  into  the  wound. 
By  this  we  comprehend  how  a  person  may  receive  a  puncture 
only,  or  a  scratch  with  this  extreme  but  solid  point,  but  not 
deep  enough  for  the  poison  to  enter.  The  space  between 
the  lines  at  a  in  the  next  illustration  shows  where  this  slit  in 

^  The  Albert  Nyanza,  or  Great  Basin  of  the  Nile,  by  Sir  Sam.  Baker.     London, 


the  fang  is  found.  In  the  larger  fangs  it  may  be  readily 
discerned  with  the  naked  eye :  under  a  magnifying  glass 
it  is  distinguishable  in  all.  It  is  distinct  in  the  fangs  of 
the  young  Jararacas  now  before  me,  and  extends  nearly 
half-way  up  the  fang  in  these. 

The  examples  of  fangs  here  given  are  all  from  nature, 
and  as  near  to  the  exact  size  as  it  is  possible  to  be  in 
delineating  objects  of  such  exceeding  fineness  and  delicacy. 
Excepting  the  Xenodon's  and  the  baby  viper's,  the  others 
belong  to  the  CrotalidcE^  whose  fangs  are  mostly  dis- 
tinguishable by  a  slight  double  curve  or  flange.  The  viperine 
fang  is  a  continuous  curve  (see  f),  but  in  the  Crotalus  the 
point  curves  very  slightly  back  again  and  downwards. 

For  the  Brazilian  specimens,  I  am  indebted  to  Dr. 
Arthur  Stradling,  who  presented  me  with  the  snakes, 
out  of  whose  jaws  I  myself  procured  them.  In  this 
Lachesis  there  were  two  fangs  visible  on  one  side,  and  only 
one  on  the  other,  viz.  the  functional  pair,  and  one  nearly 
ready  to  replace  one  of  these.  In  addition  to  the  pair  were 
four  reserve  fangs  hidden  under  the  functional  one  on  the 
right  side.  I  say  *  under,'  because  anatomically  they  were 
beneath,  though  locally  above  when  the  snake  was  in  its 
natural  position.  All  these  five  fangs  I  got  from  only  one 
side,  and  in  addition  some  others  too  small  to  represent. 
There  may  be  yet  more  in  the  membranous  capsule,  as 
mine  was  a  sadly  unscientific  search  for  them,  and  without 
any  very  powerful  magnifier.  Like  Charas,  I  'grovelled' 
for  them  !  From  a  young  Jararaca  I  also  got  out  the  func- 
tional and  four  or  five  supplementary  fangs  from  one  side, 
also  an  exceedingly  small  and  short  jaw-bone,  leaving  the 

36o  SNAKES. 

other  side  undisturbed.  Even  the  principal  fang.(<^)  is  too 
fine  to  represent  faithfully  in  printer's  ink  ;  the  others  are 
to  the  naked  eye  and  to  the  touch  almost  impalpable. 
When  we  reflect  on  the  exquisite  sharpness  and  finish  of 
these  minute  weapons,  and  the  fatal  injury  they  are 
capable  of  inflicting,  we  are  filled  with  awe  and  amazement 
at  the  virulence  of  the  subtle  fluid  which  oozes  , through 
that  almost  invisible  aperture.  The  brother  of  this  tiny 
African  viper  (/),  when  only  a  few  hours  old,  struck  a  mouse, 
which  was  dead  in  less  than  one  minute.  The  whole  forty- 
six  of  them  (p.  321)  were  born  with  the  'murderous  teeth'  in 
their  vicious  little  jaws.  The  fang  here  represented  was  loose 
in  its  mouth.     A  pair  of  perfect  functional  fangs  remained. 

c       d 


Fangs  and  some  simple  teeth  from  my  specimens. 

a.  Functional  fang  and  four  supplementary  fangs  from  Lachesls  muttts  (Brazil). 
h.  Rattlesnake  fang. 

c.  Fang  of  young  rattlesnake  (Brazil). 

d.  Fang  of  young  ^az-ara^ra  (Brazil). 

e.  Pseudo  '  fang  '  of  Xenodon  (Brazil). 

f.  Loose  fang  from  the  mouth  of  Vipera  nasicornis,  aged  one  week. 

g.  Portion  of  palate  bone  bearing  four  teeth,  from  Lachesis  mutus  (Brazil), 
h.  Two  lower  teeth  from  the  same. 

Picture  to  yourselves  the  intensity  of  that  invisible  molecule 
of  venom,  which  could  ooze  through  an  equally  invisible 
aperture  in  this  last  diminutive   weapon,    and    be   fatal   to 


life  In  a  minute  of  time  !  From  the  effects  observed  on 
victims,  I  am  inclined  to  place  these  large  African  vipers 
amon^-st    the    most    venomous     of    all     serpents    of    their 


It  may  be  of  interest  to  remark  that  the  fang  of  the 
baby  viper  found  loose  in  its  mouth  does  not  resemble  those 
remaining,  either  in  form  or  structure.  That  it  cannot  be 
a  jaw  tooth  is  evident  from  its  size.  Jaw  and  palate  teeth 
there  are,  but  discernible  only  to  the  touch,  and  under  a 
magnifying  glass.  The  fixed  fang  from  the  side  on  which 
I  found  this  loose  one,  is  a  trifle  shorter,  and  much  finer 
than  its  fellow.  In  the  loose  one  here  given  I  can  hardly 
discern  any  involution  at  all,  but  on  touching  it  with  the 
inky  point  of  a  fine  needle,  the  stain  shows  it  be  hollow, 
and  clearly  so,  at  its  base.  In  the  two  fixed  fangs,  however, 
the  involution  is  so  incomplete  that,  minute  as  they  are,  the 
point  of  a  very  fine  needle  can  be  drawn  all  down  them 
without  slipping  off. 

One  of  them,  the  larger,  on  being  touched  with  ink, 
revealed  this  open  groove  or  incomplete  involution  so 
distinctly  that  I  tried  the  other  and  was  convinced  at  once. 
The  loose  one  may  be  a  first  and  only  half-developed  fang. 
They  are  almost  as  transparent  as  glass.  I  requested  the 
keeper  to  look  into  the  mouths  of  those  subsequently  dead, 
but  he  found  no  other  loose  fangs.  Of  the  remaining  forty- 
five  deceased,  let  us  hope  those  into  whose  hands  they  have 
fallen  will  be  able  to  throw  some  further  light  on  the 
development  of  fangs  in  very  young  vipers.  Fayrer  tells  us 
that  a  young  cobra  is  not  venomous  until  it  has  cast  its  first 
skin,  which  is  usually  within  a  fortnight.     White  of  Sclbornc 

362  SNAKES. 

found  no  trace  of  fangs  in  young  vipers  which  he  examined 
with  a  lens  ;  but  these  had  not  yet  been  born.  The  possible 
cause  of  functional  development  in  this  little  viper's  fangs 
may  be  found  in  chap.  xxiv.  of  this  work. 

Another  erroneous  impression  regarding  fangs  has  been 
produced  by  confusing  those  that  are  '  fixed '  and  those  that 
are  'moveable.'  All  truly  are  fixed  firmly  into  the  jaw;  but  in 
the  viperine  snakes  the  very  short  bone  itself  is  moveable  by 
a  volitionary  action,  so  that  it  partially  '  rotates,'  and  with  it 
the  fang.  The  Elapidce  have  fixed  or  *  permanently  erect  * 
fangs,  and  when  the  mouth  is  closed  these  fit  into  a  depression 
in  the  lower  jaw.  Viperine  fangs  only  can  be  erected  or 
depressed  at  pleasure.  It  is  those  which  spring  into  place 
for  use  like  a  pen-knife  half  opened,  and  which  when  at  rest 
are  folded  back,  like  the  knife  shut  up  again.  This  action  has 
been  most  lucidly  described  by  Coues  in  connection  with  the 
Ci'otalidce,  under  which  head  I  will  quote  from  his  paper. 
Schlegel  himself  is  not  very  clear  in  his  distinctions  between 
those  serpents  that  have  '  moveable '  fangs  and  those  which 
have  not,  but  Cuvier  had  already  described  them  as  crochets 
mobiles.  Indeed,  it  is  since  the  date  of  Schlegel's  work  that 
more  complete  investigations  have  revealed  closer  anatomical 
distinctions.  We  therefore  find  in  some  of  our  highest-class 
encyclopedias,  if  not  of  recent  date,  mis-statements  regarding 
fangs  which  unfortunately  have  been  quoted  in  many  works. 
'Venomous  serpents  depress  their  fangs,'  says  Schlegel's 
translator,  true  to  the  text,  but  as  if  it  were  common  to  all. 
Describing  deglutition,  Schlegel  says  *  the  same  in  all '  '  sans 
en  exccptcr  les  veniineuXy  qui  lors  de  cet  acte  redressent  leur 
crochets  et  les  cachcnt  dans  la  gaine  des  gencives,  pour  ne  poijit 


Ics  exposer  a  dcs  injures!  ^  This,  ho^^■cvcr,  Is  the  case  with 
the  Viperina  only.  It  is  common,  for  the  reasons  just  now 
assigned,  to  find  the  cobra  classed  among  the  vipers,  in  some 
popular  encyclopedias  ;  and  in  one,  a  valuable  and  generally 
trustworthy  American  edition  of  1875,  we  read,  'moveable 
fangs  like  the  cobra,  viper,  and  rattlesnake.'  A  cobra  has 
not  moveable  fangs.  Another,  an  excellent  English  edition, 
but  of  not  very  recent  date,  includes  all  venomous  snakes 
under  the  head  of  '  vipers  ; '  a  third  in  general  terms  states 
that  'venomous  snakes  have  no  teeth  in  the  upper  jaws, 
excepting  the  fangs,  and  that  the  opening  of  the  mouth 
brings  these  into  position  ; '  whereas  it  is  now  known  that  a 
viper  can  open  its  mouth  and  yet  keep  its  fangs  depressed 
and  sheathed.  In  several  other  enc}'clopedias  the  description 
of  fangs  is  suited  to  vipers  only. 

It  is  not  necessary  to  designate  names,  as  these  things 
will  be  set  right  in  the  new  editions.  They  are  mentioned 
more  with  a  view  to  show  that  ophiolog}^  has  advanced  with 
rapid  strides  of  late,  rather  than  presumptuously  to  criticise 
our  standard  works.  Perhaps  in  another  twenty  years  my 
own  poor  efforts  will  be  exposed  as  '  old-time  miscon- 

The  renewal  of  poison  fangs  is  another  subject  of  interest 
to  ophiologists  :  how  the  next  supplementary  fang  becomes 
fixed,  ancJiyloscd  to  the  jaw-bone  ;  and  how  and  when  the 
connection  with  the  poison  duct  is  completed.  I\Ir.  Tombes, 
in  a  paper  read  before  the  Royal  Society  in  1875,  describes 
a  'scaffolding'  of  bone  thrown  out  to  meet  and  grasp  the 

^  Essai  sur  la  physioguoviic  dcs  sirpcnts,   par  Herman  Schlcgcl.     Amsterdam, 

364  SNAKES. 

new  fang,  to  'interdlgitate  and  fix  it  In  its  place  ;  this  soft 
bone  rapidly  developing  and  hardening.'  Sufficiently  mar- 
vellous is  the  functional  fang  in  itself;  the  insertion  of  the 
venom,  a  mode  of  subcutaneous  injection  invented  long 
before  the  doctors  thought  of  it.  'A  most  perfect  hypo- 
dermic syringe,'  Huxley  calls  it.  Suddenly  the  hypodermic 
syringe  is  removed,  say  by  accident,  by  force,  or  by  gradual 
decay,  and  all  connection  with  the  gland  is  cut  off;  yet 
within  a  given  period  a  second,  a  third,  an  unlimited  number 
in  turn  replace  it :  the  connection  is  restored  and  the  hypo- 
dermic syringe  is  ready  for  action  again.  How  the  new  one 
is  brought  into  relation  with  the  poison  duct  has  afforded 
much  speculation,  and  in  the  American  scientific  journals,  as 
well  as  those  of  Europe,  papers  on  this  subject  appear  from 
time  to  time.  Dr.  Weir  Mitchel  of  Philadelphia  afifirms  that 
when  the  fang  is  lost  by  natural  process  it  is  replaced  in  a 
few  days :  when  by  violence,  several  wrecks  elapse  before  the 
next  is  firmly  fixed.^  He  speaks  of  the  rattlesnake  chiefly. 
Fayrer  gives  the  periods  in  several  cobra  experiments.  In 
one  cobra  whose  fangs  were  carefully  drawn  out  on  Oct.  7th, 
new  fangs  were  '  anchylosed '  to  the  bone  in  twenty-four 
days.  In  another,  thirty-one  days  elapsed  before  the  new 
ones  were  ready  for  use ;  and  in  two  others,  eighteen  days. 
In  all  of  these  cases  the  new  fangs  were  capable  of  inflicting 
deadly  injury  by  the  time  stated. 

But  the  perfection  of  mechanism  culminates  in  the  viper 
fangs ;  and  reasoning  from  analogy,  the  Intensity  of  poison 
in  their  glands  also.  When  at  rest,  these  lie  supine  along  the 
jaw,  but  can  be  'erected,'  i.e.  sprung  down,  for  use  by  a  special 

^  Smithsonian  Contributions.     Washington,  i860. 


muscle.  The  two  fangs  above  the  dotted  illustration  of 
viperine  dentition  (p.^355)  show  both  positions.  Nicholson 
affirms  that  the  Indian  viper  Daboia  can  inject  as  much 
poison  in  half  a  second  as  a  cobra  can  in  three  seconds  ;  *  that 
whereas  a  cobra's  virus  flows  in  small  droplets,  the  viper's 
runs  in  a  fine  stream.'  Though  a  much  smaller  snake 
than  the  cobra,  Daboia's  fangs  are  nearly  double  the  size, 
as  may  be  observed  by  comparing  the  figs.  C  and  D  (p.  349). 
There  seems  reason  to  believe  also  that  this  viper  (which 
in  its  features  Fayrer  considers  a  true  Indian  type)  can 
inflict  injury  with  more  than  the  pair  of  functional  fangs. 
*  In  reference  to  the  connection  of  the  poison  fangs  with 
the  maxillary  bones,'  says  this  learned  experimentalist,  *  I 
would  note  that  second  or  even  third  supplementary  fangs 
may  be  anchylosed  with  the  principal  one  to  the  maxillary 
bone.  I  have  before  me  the  skull  of  a  Daboia,  for  which 
I  am  indebted  to  ]\Ir.  Sceva,  in  which  this  is  the  case  ;  and 
where  there  are  five  well-developed  poison  fangs  on  each 
side,  of  which  on  one  side  two  are  anchylosed  to  the  bone.'  ^ 
(Described  by  ]\Ir.  Tombes,  Phil.  Trans,  vol.  clxvi.  p.  146.) 

This  may  explain  what  we  so  often  read  in  the  description 
of  venomous  snakes  found  with  two,  three,  or  more  fangs 
on  each  side.  In  my  LacJicsis  two  were  distinctly  visible 
before  I  began  to  dig  for  those  hidden  in  the  loose  mem- 
brane, of  which  there  seemed  an  abundance,  and  I  am 
nearly  certain  that  the  second  one  had  its  own  particular 
sheath.  The  spirit  in  which  the  specimen  had  so  long  been 
immersed,  as  well  as  my  awkward  probings,  forbid  me  to 
speak  with  certainty  regarding  this  second  sheath. 

^  Thanatophidia  of  India,  2d  ed.  p.  ']2. 

366  '  ,     SNAKES. 

After  one  of  his  rattlesnake  bites — twenty  days  after — 
Dr.  Stradling  informed  me  by  letter  :  '  My  little  durissus 
is  shedding  its  skin  ;  but  when  that  is  over,  I  shall  certainly 
examine  its  mouth.  Now  that  my  arm  is  on  the  verge  of 
ulceration,  I  find  what  I  had  not  noticed  before,  that  each 
puncture  is  double — two  large  ones  and  a  tiny  second  one, 
about  yV  iiich  behind  each,  standing  out  in  black  relief 
against  the  scarlet  skin.' 

Neither  of  these  experimentalists  stated  positively  that 
the  reserve  fangs  were  in  connection  with  the  duct,  a 
phenomenon  which  I  believe  is  still  unexplained.  Fayrer 
removed  the  functional  fangs  from  an  EcJus  carmata,  and 
observed  that  there  were  no  others  fixed  at  the  time,  though 
there  were  others  loose  in  the  mucous  membrane.  On  the 
fifth  day  another  pair  were  anchylosed  and  ready  for  7ise ! 
As  will  be  presently  seen,  this  little  viper  of  sixteen  or 
eighteen  inches  (almost  too  small  to  recognise  near  the 
great  python  in  the  frontispiece),  displays  corresponding 
vigour  both  in  the  potency  of  its  venom  and  in  the  renewal 
of  its  weapons. 

From  the  foregoing  illustrations  of  numerous  pointed  teeth, 
the  question  might  arise,  '  How  are  they  disposed  of  when 
the  mouth  is  closed  ?  and  from  the  narrow  space  which 
is  apparent  in  the  fiat  head  of  a  snake,  and  the  close  fit 
of  the  jaws,  how  do  the  four  or  six  rows  meet  without 
interfering  with  each  other  ? '  This  difficulty  is  obviated 
by  the  teeth  not  closing  one  upon  the  other  as  ours  do. 
Nor  are  the  palate  teeth  in  the  centre,  or  they  would  wound 
the  upper  part  of  the  trachea  and  the  tongue  sheath,  which 
"occupy  considerable  space.     They  close  down  on  each  side 


of  these  organs.  '  Every  relief  on  one  surface  fits  into  a 
corresponding  depression  on  the  other  surface,  and  accurate 
apposition  of  every  part  is  obtained,'  Nicholson  explains 
to  us.  '  The  four  upper  rows  of  teeth  divide  the  roof  into 
three  parts,  and  the  lower  jaw  teeth  fit  between  the  upper 
maxillary  and  palatine  teeth.' 

There  remains  yet  much  more  to  describe  in  connection 
with  the  poison  fang,  which  might  come  in  the  present 
chapter  ;  but  as  the  two  following  will  treat  of  the  ViperidcE 
and  the  Crotalidcs — the  dentition  being  the  same  in  both — 
the  viperine  fangs  shall  claim  further  space  under  those 
heads.  These  three  consecutive  chapters,  and  also  chap, 
xxii.  on  some  exceptional  forms  of  dentition,  must  neces- 
sarily be  somewhat  blended ;  but  I  divide  them  thus  in 
order  to  present  the  distinct  families  more  clearly,  and 
render  the  subject  less  tedious  to  the  reader. 



THOUGH  the  ensuing  chapter  will  be  devoted  more 
exclusively  to  the  CrotalidcB  or  rattlesnakes,  it  were 
well  to  repeat  here  that  the  two  families  VipcridcB  and 
Crotalidce  comprise  the  sub-order  oi  Ophidia  '  ViPERINA,' — 
those  that  have  the  isolated,  moveable  fangs,  the  term 
isolated  having  reference  to  the  functional  fang  only.  It 
may  appear  incongruous  to  present  the  illustration  of  a 
viperine  jaw  with  a  whole  cluster  of  fangs,  while  affirming 
that  there  is  the  one  pair  only  ;  but  the  pair  in  use  are 
'solitary,'  because  the  jaw  bears  no  simple  teeth,  as  in  those 
with  fixed  or  permanently  erect  fangs. 

The  first  observation  of  the  mobility  of  the  viperine  fang 
and  its  peculiar  structure  is  ascribed  to  Felix  Fontana,^ 
an  eminent  naturalist  and  Professor  of  Philosophy  at  Pisa, 
in  the  eighteenth  century.  He  formed  the  cabinet  of 
Natural  History  at  Florence,  and  died  1805,  in  his  75th  year. 
But  the  mobility  or  action  of  rattlesnake  fangs  was  known 

^  Ricerche  Jisiche  sopra  il  vcl  no  delta  vipera.     Lucca,  1767. 



long  prior  to  Fontana,  and  he  probably  borrowed  the 
expression  '  dog-teeth '  from  the  old  Virginia  writers  who 
thus  called  the  fangs.  Purchas  (1614),  quoted  in  chap,  xvi., 
describes  '  venomous  Serpentes,  one  ten  Spannes  long,  with 
great  Tuskes,  which  they  hide  and  stretch  out  at  pleasure.'  ^ 
And  again,  in  describing  '  foure  kinds  of  venomous  Snakes. 
The  first  is  greatest,  Jararacucu,  that  is  great  Jararaca,  and 
they  are  ten  Spannes  long :  they  have  great  Tuskes  hidden 
in  the  Mouth  along  their  Gummes,  and  when  they  bite  they 
stretch  them  like  a  Finger  of  the  Hand  ;  they  have  their 
Poyson  in  their  Gummes,  their  Teeth  crooked,  and  a  Stroake 
vpon  them  whereby  the  Poison  runneth.  Others  say  they 
have  it  within  the  Tooth  which  is  hollow  within.  It  hath  so 
vehement  a  Poison  that  in  foure-and-twentie  Houres  and 
lesse  it  killeth  a  Man.'  2 

There  can  be  no  doubt  but  that  viperlne  fangs  are  here 
described,  those  belonging  to  the  South  American  Crotalidce, 
under  their  vernacular  but  then  their  only  names.  Dr.  Ed. 
Tyson,  who  dissected  the  first  rattlesnake  that  was  handed 
over  to  science  (p.  275),  quite  understood  the  mobility  of  the 
fangs,  and  of  the  existence  of  supplementary  teeth,  though 
not  fully  comprehending  the  nature  of  these  latter  ;  which 
*  I  could  not  perceive  were  fastened  to  any  Bone,  but  to 
Muscles  or  Tendons  there.  These  Fangs  were  not  to  be 
perceived  upon  first  opening  the  Mouth,  they  lying  couched 
under  a  strong  Membrane  or  Sheath,  but  so  as  did  make  a 
large    Riseing  there  on  the  Outside  of  the  lesser  Teeth  of 

^  The  Relations  of  the  World,  and  the  Religions  obseri'eJ  in  all  Ages  and  in  all 
Places  discouered  since  the  Creatio7i,  Book  I.  1st  ed.  p.  842.      London,  1614. 
2  lb.  4th  ed.  p.  1393.      1625, 

2   A 

370  SiVAKES. 

the  Maxilla'  (meaning  the  reserve  fangs),  '  but  at  Pleasure 
when  alive  they  could  raise  them  to  do  Execution  with,  not 
unlike  as  a  Lyon  or  a  Cat  does  its  Claws.'  ^ 

He  found  seven  reserve  fangs  on  each  side ;  and  though 
they  were  not,  as  he  tells  us,  '  fastened  to  any  bone,'  the 
illustration  represents  them  growing  in  regular  order 
according  to  size  in  the  jaw. 

In  another  paper  read  before  the  Royal  Society  in  1726,  also 
anterior  to  Fontana,  on  the  *  Fangs  of  the  Rattlesnake,'  the 
writer.  Captain  Hall,  describes  the  dissection,  which  was 
under  the  direction  of  Sir  Hans  Sloane ;  and  'then  the 
Muscles  that  raise  the  poisonous  Fangs  appear.'  This 
anatomist  also  found  reserve  fangs.  *  Putting  by  this 
Membrane,  the  fatal  Fangs  appear,  which  on  first 
View  seemed  only  one  on  each  Side,  till  searching  further 
there  appeared  four  more.  The  first  and  largest  is 
fixed  in  a  Bone ; '  four  others  were  loose  in  the  mem- 

Several  of  the  old  authors  quoted  in  the  chapter  on 
Rattlesnake  History  of  the  Seventeenth  Century  were  quite 
aware  of  the  action  of  the  '  Springing  Teeth,'  '  Master  Teeth,' 
or  '  Canine  Teeth,'  as  the  fangs  were  variously  called  ;  and 
Law^son,  1707,  describes  'the  Teeth  w^hich  poison  are  two  on 
each  side  of  the  Upper  Jaws.  These  are  bent  like  a  Sickle, 
and  hang  loose  as  if  by  a  Joint.'  Fontana's  observations 
were  possibly  of  greater  scientific  importance,  otherwise  it  is 
singular  that  his  equally  thoughtful  predecessors,  from  whom 

^  Paper   on    the    '  Vipera   Caudisona,'    by   Ed.    Tyson,    M.D,,    Philosophical 
Transactions,  vol.  xiii.  p.  25.      1683. 
^Philosophical  Transactions,  vol.  xxxiv.  p.  309.      1726. 


he  no  doubt  culled  much  important  information,  should  have 
been  overlooked. 

In  these  viperine  fangs  there  is  an  analogy  between  the 
vipers  and  the  lophius,  a  fish  with  moveable  teeth  ;  only  in 
the  fish,  as  Owen  tells  us,  the  action  is  not  volitional, — the 
teeth  bend  back  to  admit  food,  and  then  by  elastic  muscles 
spring  up  again  to  retain  it. 

The  true  nature  of  the  reserve  fangs  was  surmised  by 
Mr.  John  Bartram,  who  in  1734  wrote  from  German  Town, 
in  the  American  colonies,  to  a  F.R.S.,  'On  a  Cluster  of 
Small  Teeth  at  the  Root  of  each  Fang  or  Great  Tooth.'  ^ 
He  had  a  rattlesnake,  'now  a  Rarity  near  our  Settlements,' 
and  dissected  it,  when  he  '  found  in  the  Head  what  has  not 
been  observed  before  by  any  that  I  can  remember  ;  i.e.  a 
Cluster  of  Teeth  on  each  side  of  the  Upper  Jaw  at  the 
Root  of  the  Great  Fangs  through  which  the  Poison  is 
ejected.  In  the  same  Case  that  the  two  main  Teeth  were 
sheathed  in,  lay  four  others  at  the  Root  of  each  Tooth  in  a 
Cluster  of  the  same  Shape  and  Figure  as  the  great  ones, 
and  I  am  apt  to  think  for  the  same  Use  and  Purposes,  if 
by  an  Accident  the  main  Teeth  happen  to  be  broken. 
May  not  these  be  placed  to  supply  a  Defect  successively, 
for  the  Support  of  this  Creature  ? ' 

Mr.  Bartram  was  singularly  correct  in  his  diffidently- 
offered  surmises  ;  nor  is  it  likely  that  in  such  a  remote 
district  as  German  Town  then  was,  he  had  ready  access 
to  foreign  publications,  or  would  have  claimed  originality 
had  he  been  cognisant  of  the  work  of  M.  Moyse  Charas, 
Nciv  Experiments  upon    Vipers,  translated  from  the  original 

1  riiilosophical  Transactions,  vol.  xxxviii.      I733-34- 

372  SNAKES. 

French  in  1673.  Cliaras,  after  describing  the  '  Great  Teeth! 
refers  to  the  *  smaller  teeth '  (reserve  fangs)  '  that  are  there 
in  a  Nursery,  and  are,  if  we  may  say  so,  in  expectation  to 
serve  instead  of  the  many  Teeth,  whether  these  come  to 
fail  of  their  force,  or  fall  out  of  themselves.'  The  author, 
to  add  weight  to  conclusions  evidently  originating  from 
personal  investigations,  tells  us  that  he  had  'taken  Pains 
to  grovel  with  a  good  deal  of  Patience  in  the  Gums  of  innu- 
merable Vipers.' 

The  Italian  Redi,  even  prior  to  Charas,  had  also  'grovelled' 
in  the  gums  of  Vipers,  and  observed  the  canal  or  slit  in  the 
fang,  ^  si  feiidono  per  lo  hingo  dalla  radiee  alia  piintal  and 
that  these  canaliculated  teeth  in  the  moveable  jaws  {pssi 
vwblli)  were  for  the  conveyance  of  the  venom. ^ 

Thus,  one  hundred  years  prior  to  the  work  of  Fontana, 
the  structure  of  the  viperine  jaw  was  understood  and  described 
by  several — we  may  almost  say  many — anatomists,  to  whom 
let  due  honour  be  rendered  for  their  individual  and  inde- 
pendent researches ;  from  all  of  which  Fontana  had  doubt- 
less benefited. 

And  so  from  numerous  sources  we  might  go  on  culling 
and  quoting;  PJiilosophical  Trausactiotis  of  France,  Florence, 
Germany,  and  America,  as  well  as  of  England,  showing  us 
that  little  by  little  the  scientific  workers  examine,  compare, 
correspond,  till  out  of  their  life's  labours  a  fact  is  established 
that  may  be  printed  and  learned  in  six  lines,  but  which — 
as  is  well  worth  remembering — often  represents  the  brain 
and  eyes  and  time  of  ages  of  scientists. 

Next  to  engage  attention  was  the  structure  of  the  fang 

^  Csservazwnc  iiitonio  al'e  Viper e,  by  Francesco  Redi.     Florence,  1664. 


and  the  '  involution '  described  in  the  last  chapter.  A  paper 
on  this  subject  by  Thos.  Smith,  Esq.,  F.R.S.,  was  read  before 
the  Royal  Society  in  181 8.  Mr.  Smith  claims  to  have  been 
the  first  to  observe  this  involution  as  beincf  altofjethcr 
different  from  the  perforation  of  the  pulp  originally  supposed 
to  be  the  case.  He  first  noticed  the  slit  in  a  cobra's  fang 
(he  being  in  India),  and  afterwards  in  a  Hydrus  (sea  snake), 
and  it  led  him  to  further  investigations.  With  a  microscope 
the  slit  was  perceptible  in  a  rattlesnake  fang  (which  was  also 
observed  by  tlie  present  writer  before  reading  this  account). 

One  more  paper  in  the  FJiilosopJiical  Transactions  on  this 
subject  must  be  commended  to  the  interested  student.  It  is 
the  one  already  quoted  (p. 363),  'On  the  Succession  of  Poison 
Fangs,'  by  Charles  Tombes,  M.A.,  vol.  clxvi.  p.  470,  1S76. 
In  this  paper  is  presented  the  result  of  all  the  most  recent 
investigations,  enriched  by  still  deeper  researches,  but  of  too 
scientific  a  character  to  be  introduced  in  this  simple  narrative 
of  the  progress  of  ophiology.  We  may,  however,  say  that 
Mr.  Tombes  finds  the  character  or  function  of  succession 
differs  in  .the  vipers  from  that  of  the  venomous  colubrincs  ; 
and  this,  as  the  construction  of  their  fangs  and  maxillary 
jaw  differs,  is  what  we  might  look  for. 

A  few  more  words  descriptive  of  the  external  aspect  of 
the  VipcridcB  may  summarize  what  has  already  been  said  of 
them.  Schlegel  suggests  that  their  'noxious  character  is 
expressed  in  all  their  parts.'  With  the  exception  of  brilliant 
colouring,  this  may  be  accepted  as  a  rule.  The  broad,  flat, 
angular  head,  rendering  the  'neck'  thin  and  conspicuous, 
lias  gained  for  man\-  of  them  the  generic,  sometimes  specific 
name    of     Trigonoccphalns.     From    their    deadly    qualities, 

374  SNAKES. 

ClotJio,  Severa  Ativx,  LacJiesis,  and  Atropos  are  among  their 
names  ;  while  caudalis  and  brachyiwa  describe  the  short,  thin 
tail  as  opposed  to  the  long  and  tapering  tails  of  most 
colubrines.  The  true  vipers — those  that  have  not  the  nasal 
fosse — belong  particularly  to  Africa,  the  Crotalidce  proper 
to  America,  the  chief  distinction  being  that  the  CrotalidcB 
have  and  the  ViperidcB  have  not  the  '  pit '  (see  p.  277),  of 
which  more  in  the  next  chapter.  The  rigid,  lanceolate  scales 
covering  the  head  are  another  viperine  characteristic  ;  also 
thick,  heavy  bodies,  tapering  at  each  end,  and  rough,  cari- 
nated  scales.  They  inhabit  for  the  most  part  dry,  arid 
deserts  and  sandy  uncultivated  places  of  the  Old  World,  Africa 
being  their  most  congenial  habitat.  The  coloured  viper  and 
young  one  convey  a  good  idea  of  their  general  aspect 

Ophiologists  do  not  agree  in  the  arrangement  of  genera 
and  species,  on  account  of  the  forms  running  so  much  into 
each  other.  Gray  gives  nine  genera  and  twenty  species  ; 
Wallace,  three  genera  and  twenty-two  species  ;  and  Dumeril, 
six  genera  and  seventeen  species.  The  Death  adder  of 
Australia  (p.  172)  is  a  heterogeneous  species.  Its  aspect  is 
viperine,  yet  it  has  not  viperine  fangs,  and  does  not  therefore 
belong  to  this  chapter.  Schlegel  thinks  it  ought  not  to  be 
separated  from  the  true  vipers,  but  Krefft  does  not  state 
positively  that  it  is  viviparous,  so  it  is  altogether  anomalous. 

The  researches  of  Dr.  Weir  Mitchel  of  Philadelphia  have 
been  of  great  value  to  ophiologists.  For  two  whole  years 
he  gave  the  best  portion  of  his  time  to  the  study  of  rattle- 
snakes, having  a  number  of  them  under  constant  observation. 
An  exhaustive  paper  by  him  was  published  in  the  SinitJi- 
sonian  Co?itributions,  Washington,  D.C.,  in  1860,  giving  details 


of  experiments  with  the  venom  and  the  treatments  adopted. 
But  of  especial  interest  here  are  his  observations  on  the  fangs 
and  their  voHtional  action,  it  having  previously  been  supposed 
that  the  mere  opening  of  the  mouth  brought  the  fangs  into 
position,  which  is  not  the  case.  As  the  Crotahis  can  move 
each  side  of  its  mouth  independently,  so  it  can  use  one  or 
both  fangs.  '  When  the  mouth  is  opened  widely,  it  still  has 
perfect  control  over  the  fang,  raising  or  depressing  it  at  will.' 
Dr.  Mitchel  saw  that  though  both  fangs  were  present,  both 
were  not  always  used.  When  a  viperine  snake  yawns  ex- 
tensively, as  it  so  often  does,  you  may  sometimes  perceive 
the  fangs  partially  erected  or  entirely  so,  or  the  '  vibratile 
motion '  in  them  observed  by  Fayrer.  When  the  snake  is 
angry,  this  vibratile  action  is  much  like  that  of  a  cat  gnashing 
the  teeth ;  but  when  only  in  a  yawn,  the  partial  and  unequal 
erection  of  one  or  both  fangs  has  the  appearance  of  being 
involuntary.  In  this  I  speak  from  observation.  The  effect 
is  similar  to  that  seen  about  a  person's  mouth  in  trying  to 
suppress  a  yawn — a  sort  of  convulsive,  nervous  twitching. 
Whatever  the  cause,  you  perceive  the  fangs  moving,  but  7iot 
moving  always  in  accord. 

The  shedding  or  replacement  of  the  fangs  is.  Dr.  Mitchel 
thinks,  a  regular  process,  as  in  the  teeth  of  some  fishes, 
though  not  regular  as  to  time.  Sometimes,  but  not  always, 
they  are  shed  with  the  casting  of  the  cuticle.  He  'cannot 
suppose  that  the  almost  mature  secondaries  are  awaiting 
an  accident ; '  which  agrees  precisely  with  the  opinions  of 
Dr.  Edward  Nicholson  and  other  physiologists  quoted  in 
the  last  chapter :  '  A  crop  of  young  teeth '  (or  of  fangs) 
'work   their   way   into   the   intervals   of  the   old  teeth,   and 

376  SNAKES. 

gradually  expel  these  latter.'  When  lost  by  accident  or 
by  violence,  therefore,  the  process  of  replacement  is  slower, 
as  we  can  readily  conceive,  the  '  secondary '  next  in  turn  not 
being  as  yet  ready  for  duty. 

Though  the  American  scientific  journals  devoted  to  zoology 
are  rich  in  ophidian  literature,  there  are  few  available  to 
English  students ;  and  I  regret  I  am  unable  to  ascertain 
from  across  the  Atlantic  the  latest  researches  and  conclusions 
regarding  this  and  several  other  correlative  points.  To 
Professor  Martin  Duncan  I  am  indebted  for  the  loan  of 
a  volume  which  forms  one  of  the  '  Bulletins  '  of  the  United 
States  Geological  Surveys,  containing  a  valuable  'Report'  on 
the  Crotalus  by  Dr.  Elliot  Coues,  of  the  United  States  army, 
late  surgeon  and  naturalist  to  the  United  States  Northern 
Boundary  Commission,  1878. 

It  is  these  frequent  Exploring  Expeditions  of  America 
that  have  done  so  much  to  enrich  science  in  all  its  branches  ; 
as  to  them  are  appointed  efficient  geologists,  botanists, 
naturalists,  and  other  scientists,  who  send  in  their  '  Reports ' 
to  Government,  to  be  soon  reproduced  in  the  form  of  large, 
handsomely-illustrated  volumes.  Copies  of  these  (often 
consisting  of  ten  to  eighteen  thick  quartos)  are  presented 
to  the  members  of  Congress,  governors  of  States,  and  to 
many  others  in  office,  also  to  literary  institutions.  You  may 
have  access  to  them  in  almost  every  large  town  in  America  ; 
and  there  is  no  information  connected  with  the  history  and 
natural  productions  of  the  nation  (including  the  aborigines) 
that  cannot  be  found  in  their  pages.  And  as  our  Trans- 
atlantic cousins  are  always  exploring  some  new  territory, 
and  have  still  untold  square  miles  of  mountain  and  valley 


to  explore,  their  scientific  '  Reports '  in  huge  quarto  tomes 
can  be  more  easily  imagined  than  counted. 

This  httle  digression  from  the  viperine  fangs  is  by  way 
of  introducing  Dr.  Elliot  Coues.  The  volume  in  question 
was  not  forthcoming  at  the  British  Museum,  therefore  I 
ventured  to  trouble  Professor  Duncan  with  some  inquiries, 
which  were  kindly  responded  to  by  the  sight  of  the  work  itself. 

There  is  in  Dr.  Coues'  paper  a  good  deal  of  what  has 
been  here  already  described  ;  but  there  is  also  so  much 
that  is  of  additional  interest,  that  for  the  benefit  of  those 
students  who  are  not  within  reach  of  the  British  Museum 
(where,  no  doubt,  the  fast  arriving  quartos  will  get  catalogued 
in  due  time),  I  will  transcribe  from  the  text  some  of  the 
passages  as  relating  to  viperine  fangs  generally. 

*  The  active  instruments  are  a  pair  of  fangs.'  .  .  .  They 
are  '  somewhat  conical  and  scythe  shaped,  with  an  extremely 
fine  point ;  the  convexity  looks  forward,  the  front  downward 
and  backward '  (referring  to  the  slight  double  curve  in  the 
Crotalus  fang  as  shown  in  the  illustration,  p.  360).  They 
are  hollow  by  folding,  '  till  they  meet,  converting  an  exterior 
surface  first  into  a  groove,  finally  into  a  tube.'  .  .  .  The  fang 
is  'moveable,  and  was  formerly  supposed  to  be  hinged  in 
its  socket.  But  it  is  firmly  socketed,  and  the  maxillary 
itself  moves,  which  rocks  to  and  fro  by  a  singular  con- 
trivance. The  maxillary  is  a  small,  stout,  triangular  bone, 
moveably  articulated  above  with  a  smaller  bone,  the  lachr>^mal, 
which  is  itself  hinged  upon  the  frontal.  .  .  .  This  forward 
impulse  of  the  palatal  and  pterygoid  is  communicated  to 
the  maxillary,  against  which  they  abut,  causing  the  latter 
to   rotate   upon    the    lachrymal.       In    this   rocking   forward 

378  SNAKES. 

of  the  maxillary,  the  socket  of  the  fang,  and  with  it  the 
tooth  itself,  rotates  in  such  a  manner  that  the  apex  of 
the  tooth  describes  the  arc  of  a  circle,  and  finally  points 
downward  instead  of  backward.  This  protrusion  of  the 
fang  is  not  an  automatic  motion,  consequent  upon  the  mere 
opening  of  the  mouth,  as  formerly  supposed,  but  a  volitional 
act,  as  the  reverse  motion,  viz.  the  folding  back  of  the  fang, 
also  is  ;  so  that  in  simply  feeding  the  fangs  are  not  erected.' 
(But  I  think  I  may  affirm  positively  that  sometimes  the 
vipers  do  use  their  fangs  in  feeding.  When  they  open 
their  mouths— or  rather  the  jaws  alternately  very  wide — I  have 
seen  first  one  and  then  the  other  fang  occasionally  engaged  in 
the  food  and  again  disengaged  unsheathed.  On  other  occasions 
the  fangs  have  been  folded.  In  some  large  African  vipers, 
the  '  River  Jack'  and  others  that  were  in  the  Society's  Gardens 
a  few  years  ago,  I  was  able  to  observe  this  easily.) 

The  fang  is  folded  back  'with  an  action  comparable 
to  the  shutting  of  the  blade  of  a  pocket-knife  ;  .  .  .  one  set 
of  muscles  prepares  the  fangs  for  action,  the  other  set  stows 
them  away  when  not  wanted.  .  .  .  The  fangs  are  further 
protected  by  a  contrivance  for  sheathing  them,  like  a  sword 
in  its  scabbard.  A  fold  of  mucous  membrane  envelops  the 
tooth  like  a  hood.  .  .  .  The  erection  causes  the  sheath  to 
slip,  like  the  finger  of  a  glove,  and  gather  in  folds  round 
its  base.  ...  It  can  be  examined  without  dissection.'  (And 
with  the  naked  eye  in  a  large  viper,  even  during  life,  you 
may  sometimes  perceive  this  sheath  or  hood  half  off.)  '  Each 
developing  fang  is  enclosed  in  a  separate  capsule,'  says 
Dr.  Mitchel,  which  is  just  what  I  thought  I  saw  in  'grovel- 
Hng'  up  the  poor  Bushmaster's  reserve  fangs.     There  was 


an  immense  deal  of  loose  skin  to  remove,  which  under 
skilful  manipulation  would  doubtless  have  presented  the 
form  of  sheaths  of  various  sizes.  At  last  I  came  to  a  great 
deep  cavity  as  big  as  a  bean  or  a  hazel  nut,  and  this  I  left 
neat  and  uninjured  for  some  one  else  to  explore.  It  might 
have  been  the  poison  gland  !  The  young  Jararaca's  mouth 
is  too  small  to  reveal  its  mysteries. 

But  now  we  come  to  the  most  amazing  of  all  the  won- 
drous detail  of  this  living  hypodermic  syringe.  Those  who 
have  seen  a  viper  or  a  rattlesnake  strike  its  prey,  are 
cognisant  of  the  lightning-like  rapidity  of  the  action.  So 
swift  is  it  that  often  a  spectator  is  not  sure  whether  the 
snake  touched  the  victim  or  not.  A  flicker,  a  flash,  and  the 
bite  has  been  given.  Dr.  Mitchcl,  describing  the  singular 
inactivity  of  rattlesnakes  in  confinement,  points  out  the 
striking  contrast  between  this  repose  and  the  perilous 
rapidity  of  their  stroke.  Now  let  us  look  at  the  amount  of 
business  transacted  in  that  flash  of  time.  Says  Dr.  Elliot 
Coues  :  '  The  train  of  action  is  first  reaching  the  object ; 
secondly,  the  blow  ;  thirdly,  the  penetration  ;  fourthly,  the 
injection  ;  and  fifthly,  the  enlargement  of  the  wound  (the 
latter  by  dragging  upon  it  the  whole  weight  of  the  body  by 
the  contraction  of  certain  muscles,  which  cause  the  fangs  to 
be  buried  deeper  and  thus  enlarge  the  puncture)  ;  and  all 
these  five  actions  accomplished  in  that  instantaneous  stroke  ! ' 
This  is  what  Fayrer  means  when  explaining  that  *  the  real 
bite  is  when  the  snake  seizes,  retains  its  hold,  and  thoroughly 
imbeds  its  fanc^s.'  '  Sometimes  the  lower  teeth  and  the 
palatine  become  entangled  (and  sometimes  a  fang  is  left  in 
the  wound).  .  .  .  The  force  of  ejection  may  be  seen  when  a 

38o  SNAKES. 

serpent  striking  violently  misses  its  aim,  and]  the  stream  has 
been  seen  to  spirt  five  or  six  feet.  A  blow  given  in  anger  is 
always  accompanied  by  the  spirt  of  venom,  even  if  the  fangs 
fail  to  engage.'  .  .  .  Another  curious  piece  of  mechanism,  and 
one  not  previously  described  that  I  am  aware  of,  is  a  provi- 
sion for  the  fangs  when  they  fail  to  bite.  ^  A  serpent  always 
snaps  his  jaws  together,  and  thoroughly  r/f^j-^j"  than  when  he 
strikes  ;  therefore,  if  the  fangs  failed  to  engage,  they  would 
penetrate  the  lower  jaw.  But  there  is  a  certain  movement 
among  the  loose  bones  of  the  skull  (perhaps  not  yet 
thoroughly  made  out),  the  result  of  which  is  to  spread  the 
points  of  the  fangs  apart,  so  that  they  clear  the  inner  sides  of 
the  under  jaw,  instead  of  injuring  them.'  Coues  here  describes 
rattlesnakes  particularly,  but  no  doubt  the  same  extends 
throughout  the  viperines.  ..."  In  a  large  snake  the  entire 
gland  may  be  an  inch  long  and  one-fourth  as  wide,  having 
the  capacity  of  ten  or  fifteen  drops  of  fluid.  There  is  no 
special  reservoir  for  the  venom  other  than  the  central  cavity 
of  the  gland.  Formerly  there  was  thought  to  be  such  a 
storehouse ;  but  when  the  tooth  is  folded  back,  certain 
muscles  press  or  compress  the  canal  to  prevent  a  wasteful 
flow  :  in  other  words,  the  communication  is  shut  off! ' 

In  this  wonderful  exhibition  of  the  ivory  hypodermic 
syringe  there  has  not,  I  trust,  been  so  much  repetition  as  to 
render  the  subject  tedious.  Presented  in  such  graphic 
language  and  from  such  a  source,  it  must  attract  almost 
every  intelligent  reader,  while  the  viperinc  fang  is  absolutely 
acting  before  his  eyes.  On  this  subject,  then,  no  more  need 
be  said  ;  though  on  the  Crotalus  family  generally  some 
interesting  matter  still  remains  to  be  told. 



IN  the  several  chapters  in  which  the  rattlesnake  has  been 
introduced,  the  reader  has  seen  that  for  about  250 
years  it  has  been  an  object  of  interest  and  of  study  among 
naturalists,  and  that  first  one  and  then  another  has  made 
fresh  examinations  of  its  various  parts,  giving  to  the  world 
new  items  of  information  as  the  results  of  such  observations. 
And  can  there  remain  anything  further  to  find  out  about 
it }  we  may  ask  in  surprise.  Yes,  there  is.  There  yet 
remains  to  comprehend  and  decide  upon  one  feature  which 
thus  far  has  defeated  conjecture  and  investigation — the  '  pit ' 
(p.  277).  Possibly  among  the  indefatigable  observers  in  the 
land  of  rattlesnakes,  recent  labours  may  have  been  rewarded 
by  some  new  evidence  of  the  utility  of  this  peculiar  orifice, 
and  already  their  zoological  journals  may  have  enlightened 
ophiologists  on  its  functions.  At  the  present  moment  I  am 
not  aware  of  such  information  ;  and  time  will  not  permit  of 
further  delay  to  enable  me  to  send  a  message  of  inquiry 
across  the  great  deep. 


382  SNAKES. 

Hitherto  the  pit  has  certainly  plagued  not  only  zoologists, 
but  all  classifiers  of  the  Ophidia  ;  because  serpents  that  have 
this  facial  depression  embrace  so  many  widely  differing 
genera,  some  of  them  resembling  in  all  other  respects  the 
true  vipers,  and  others  the  rattlesnakes,  so  that  they  have 
come  to  be  distinguished  as  the  '  pit  vipers.' 

One  of  our  most  able  biologists,  A.  R.  Wallace,  in  his 
Geographical  Distribution  of  A^iiinals^  informs  us  that  'the 
CrotalidcB,  including  the  deadly  rattlesnakes,  abound  m.ost 
in  the  oriental  regions'  (though  not  a  single  rattlesnake 
is  found  there,  or  in  the  Old  World  at  all).  Let  us  seek  for 
the  reason  of  this  apparent  incongruity,  and  how  it  is  that 
a  large  number  of  serpents  which  have  no  rattle  come  to 
be  placed  among  those  which  have  an  instrument  specially 
constructed  to  produce  a  rattling  sound. 

Not  to  weary  the  reader  by  attempting  to  describe  the 
various  systems  of  classification  adopted  by  the  many 
herpetologists  who  were  the  contemporaries  and  immediate 
successors  of  Linnaeus,  we  will  rather  invite  his  imagination 
to  picture  the  geographical  history  of  our  globe  during  that 
age.  Travels,  explorations,  the  establishment  of  new  colonies, 
and  the  settlement  of  new  territories  marked  the  era  ;  and, 
as  a  sequence,  new  and  hitherto  unknown  fauna  were  con- 
tinually brought  home  to  Europe.  We  have  seen,  too,  how 
natural  history  had  been  growing  into  a  science,  and  how 
travellers  and  zoologists  stimulated  each  other  by  their 
researches  and  writings.  To  recall  a  few  of  the  names 
with  whom  reptiles  are  associated,  and  to  remind  the  reader 
that  one  arranged  them   according  to  their   scales,  another 

1  Ed.  of  1876. 


their  form,  a  fourth  their  teeth,  a  fifth  their  habits,  and 
so  on,  and  that  even  at  the  present  day  the  classification 
of  them  is  far  from  complete,  the  present  writer  will  be 
absolved  from  attempting  anything  beyond  generalization. 

Studying  snakes   towards    the   end    of  the    last    century, 
were  Laurenti,  Buffon,  Bonnat,  Lacepede,  Klein,  Seba,  etc. 

In  the  early  part  of  the  present  century  were  Latreille, 
Shaw,    Daudin,  Oppel,    Merrem,  Wagler,  Neuwied,    Cuvier, 
and    many   others    till    we    come    to    Gray,    Fitzinger,    and 
Dumeril,    1844.      This   last    author,   in   his   introduction    to 
Les  serpents  solenoglyphes,  dit    ThanatopJiidcs,  includino-   the 
most  deadly  snakes,  devotes  several  pages  to  the  subject  of 
the  'pit,'  and  why  it  had  especially  occupied  the  attention  of 
those  herpetologists  who  were  endeavouring  to  improve  the 
previously  imperfect  systems.     Wagler  in  1824  assigned  the 
name  Bothrops  (from  /SotJ^oc,  any  hole,  or  pit,  or  hollow  duo-) 
to  vipers  with  the  pit  that  had  only  scales  and  no  plates  or 
shields  on  their  head,  separating  these  from  the  rattlesnakes 
and  from  those  that  have  shields  (see  illus.  p.   318).      This 
nomenclature  of  Wagler's  did  not  commend  itself  to  other 
herpetologists,  and  Fitzinger,  in  his  Sy sterna  Reptiliiim,  1843, 
extending  the  group,  retained  the  name  for  one  of  the  five 
families    into  which   he    divided   all    the  venomous   snakes. 
Fitzinger's  fifth  family,  the  Botlirophides,  included  some  of  the 
Indian  pit  vipers  ;  but  as  some  of  these  latter  have  shields 
on   their  head,  they  could   not   be   admitted   into   Wagler's 
group  with  scales  only.     As  the  present  object  is  to  demon- 
strate some  of  the  perplexities  of  naturalists,  and  to  arrive  at 
the  reason  why  so    many  snakes  without    the   crotalon    are 
called    Crotalidce,  we  will  quote  Dumeril's  reasons,  invitino- 

384  SNAKES. 

the  reader  to  picture  to  himself  the  interest  with  which  new 
examples  were  brought  home  for  investigation,  and  the 
obstacles  presenting  themselves  to  herpetologists,  who  find 
one  feature  claiming  alliance  to  this  snake,  while  another 
feature  points  an  alliance  to  an  entirely  opposite  one. 

So  Dumeril  shows  us  why  some  of  the  herpetologists 
wished  to  admit  every  species  that  has  the  nasal  fosse 
under  the  generic  name  BotJiropJiidce^  and  others  would  have 
limited  the  term  to  a  few,  because  the  name  does  not 
suit  them  all  equally  well.  ^  Beaiicotip  d'autres  serpents 
presentent  attssi  des  enfonceinents  creuses  stir  la  tete  et 
sur  le  bord  des  levres!  These  depressions,  called  by  Pro- 
fessor Owen  '  secreting  follicles,'  may  be  easily  distinguished 
on  the  upper  lip  of  some  of  the  larger  constrictors.  In  the 
Reticulated  python  you  can  count  these  pits  like  deep 
dimples  round  the  mouth.  In  the  Diamond  snake  {Morelia 
spilotes)  they  are  remarkably  deep  along  the  lower  lip. 

Of  those  *  follicles '  in  the  Crotalidce  Dumeril  writes  :  '  Les 
fossettes  paraissejit  devoir  etre  des  organes  particuliers  doiit 
V usage  OH  la  fonction  iiest  pas  connu  il  est  vraix,  inais  qui 
semble  avoir  qiielqiie  importance  par  leiir  position  constante 
entre  les  orifices  reels  des  narines  et  les  yeiix^  et  leur  structure 
anatoniiqne  asses  coinpliquee.  A  cause  de  la  grande  analogie 
qitils  ont  tons  avec  les  serpents  a  sonnettes,  nous  avons  prefere 
appeler  ceux-ci  les  crota liens' ^ 

The  above  words  are  under  the  head  o^  ^  Les  Crotaliensl 
a  name  retained,  he  had  already  explained  why.  ^  Les 
solenoglyphes  qui  ont  les  narines  doubles  en  apparence  seront 
pour  nous  les  Crotaliens  quoique  cette  denomination  puisse,  a 

^  Erpetologie  ghierale,  tome  7,  p.  145 1. 


tort,  porter  a  croire  que  ces  especes  font  die  bndt  avec  leur 
qiteiie :  elle  indiqiie  seuleineiit  leur  rapports  avec  les  crotales 
e  tab  lis  d'apres  la  presence  des  fausses  narines  oil  fosse  ttes  dont 
nous  venous  de  parler.  On  noninie  quelquefois  ces  Ophidic ns 
Bothrops!  1  .  .  .  '  Comnie  ce  caractere  conviendrait  a  tons  les 
Crotaliens  parccqu'ils  ont  tons  des  fossettes  dites  lacrymales, 
ce  7tom  {Bothrops)  dev lent  par  consequent  trop  general!  "^ 

In  retaining  Bothrops  as  a  generic  distinction,  a  large 
number  of  non-venomous  and  constricting  serpents  must 
have  been  included,  which  probably  induced  Wagler's  op- 
posers  to  say  of  him  that  he  '  created  a  system  in  which  the 
venomous  and  non-venomous  were  huddled  together  pell 

Thus  we  see  that  on  account  of  the  nasal  fosse  the  Indian 
crotaline  snakes  could  not  be  true  vipers  ;  they  could  not 
be  exclusively  BothropJiidce,  for  the  reasons  given  above, 
and  they  certainly  are  not  rattlesnakes  ;  but  for  want  of  a 
better  name  they  are  '  CrotalidcEl  as  they  have  (minus  the 
rattle)  more  features  in  common  with  rattlesnakes  than  with 
any  others. 

In  the  slough  of  a  rattlesnake  you  may  see  the  form  of 
this  pit.  It  is  lined  with  scales,  and  reversed  in  sloughing, 
perfectly  shaped  as  a  tiny  glove  finger. 

When  Dr.  J.  E.  Gray,  F.R.S.,  etc.,  edited  a  short-lived 
little  magazine  in  183 1  called  the  Zoological  Miscellany,  \}iVQ. 
whole  of  the  known  Crotalidce  consisted  of  ten  genera  and 
thirty  species,  of  which  sixteen  species  belonged  to  Asia  and 
its  adjacent  islands,  one  to  South  Africa,  and  the  rest  to 
America.      When   he    published    his    catalogue   of    snakes 

^  Erpetologie  generate,  tome  7,  p.  1367.  ^  Ibid,  p.  1 503, 

2   B 

386  SNAKES, 

belonging  to  the  British  Museum  in  1849,  he  enumerated 
elev^en  genera  and  thirty-seven  species.  Wallace,  1876, 
gives  eleven  genera  and  forty  species,  the  eastern  examples 
of  which  belong  to  India,  Siam,  Java,  Borneo,  Tartary, 
Thibet,  Japan,  and  Formosa.  Still  more  recently  some 
belonging  to  the  Western  States  of  America  have,  I  believe, 
been  added  by  Cope  or  Coues,  the  latter  informing  us  that 
up  to  the  date  of  his  paper,  1878,  eighteen  species  and 
upwards  of  the  rattlesnake  proper  had  been  described  in 
the  United  States,  nearly  all  in  the  west  and  south-west. 
So,  as  those  vast  deserts  are  being  explored,  new  species 
are  continually  discovered. 

Of  the  Indian  species  of  CrotalidcB,  those  minus  a  rattle, 
Fayrer  says  that  they  are  chiefly  in  Malaya  and  Indo-China. 
Many  of  them,  the  Trimeresiiri^  are  arboreal,  and  like  the 
foliage  in  colour.  They  have  the  viperine  aspect,  but  are 
'  less  formidable  than  their  American  congeners,'  being  of 
much  smaller  dimensions.  Only  one,  Halys,  has  anything 
approaching  to  a  rudimentary  rattle,  a  tail  ending  in  a  spine. 
Of  the  Trimeresiu'i,  the  tree  species,  Fayrer  affirms  that  few 
deaths  are  ascribed  to  them.  Some  attain  to  above  three  feet 
in  length.  He  thinks  a  feeble  person  might  die  of  their  bite. 
They  are  of  a  sluggish  habit,  and  lie  quietly  hidden  among 
the  leaves  of  low  bushes  and  ferns.  They  will  even  suffer 
themselves  to  be  moved  without  attempting  to  bite,  but 
one  that  was  pressed  to  the  ground  with  a  stick  struck  so 
hard  as  to  break  both  its  fangs.  They  feed  chiefly  on 
insects.  Their  habits  are  crepuscular  if  not  nocturnal,  and 
Fayrer  does  not  state  positively  that  they  or  any  of  the 
Indian  Crotalidce  are  viviparous. 


or  the  principal  American  Crotdlidce  that  are  not  true 
rattlesnakes,  the  '  Bushmaster '  {Lacheszs  iniLtiis)  stands  first. 
This  is  undoubtedly  the  largest  venomous  serpent  known. 
In  length  it  equals  the  Hamadryad  ;  and  in  thickness,  the 
large  African  vipers.  On  looking  closely  at  the  illustration 
of  this  reptile's  tail  (p.  176),  it  will  be  seen  that  in  addition 
to  the  spine  which  terminates  it,  there  are  several  rows  of  fine, 
elaborated  scales,  which  under  the  microscope  appear  almost 
as  curiously  pointed  as  those  on  the  head  of  Vipera  nasicornis. 
Dumeril  thus  describes  the  tail:  ^ Ponctuee^  et  preccdce  de 
dix  02c  doiize  rangces  d'ccailles  epinezises^  iin  pen  courbees  en 
crochets  a  la  pointe'  This  is  the  snake  called  Crotahts  viiiet, 
or  '  dumb  rattlesnake,'  by  Linnaeus,  and  which  is  supposed 
to  simulate  the  sound  of  the  rattle  by  vibrating  this  point 
against  the  leaves  ;  but  many  other  snakes  do  this  whether 
their  tail  is  pointed  or  not,  as  we  saw  in  chap.  xi.  Any 
small  thing,  such  as  a  twig  rustling  among  dead  leaves, 
would  produce  the  same  sound.  The  near  approach  of 
LacJiesis  to  Cro talus  Jiorridiis  of  the  same  habitat  is,  how- 
ever, seen  in  this  rudimentary  rattle,  the  agitation  of  which 
may  similarly  be  attributed  to  the  timidity  of  these  'highly 
nervous  and  irritable  creatures,'  to  repeat  Coues'  words ; 
for  deadly  as  they  are,  timidity  strongly  displays  itself. 
Watching  the  venomous  snakes  when  their  food  is  dropped 
into  their  cages,  their  excessive  caution,  amounting  to 
cowardice,  is  remarkable,  and  this  with  the  rattlesnakes 
especially.  One  will  fix  its  eyes  on  the  rat  which  is  running 
about,  and  shrink  back  terrified  if  it  approach  too  closely. 
Then  if  the  quadruped  is  a  moment  quiet,  the  snake  appears 
to  be  considering  whether  it  will  be  advisable  to  attack  it 

388  SNAKES. 

or  not.  Stealthily  and  slowly  it  approaches  its  head,  but 
on  the  slightest  movement  of  the  little  animal,  recedes  in 
alarm,  and  is  some  time  before  it  makes  a  second  venture. 
I  have  seen  a  rattlesnake  thus  timidly  advancing  and 
recoiling  three  or  four  times  before  it  has  the  courage  to 
give  the  fatal  stroke.  Even  after  the  bite  it  watches  its 
victim  with  a  steadiness  in  which  terror  is  the  strongest 
expression  ;  and  when  the  rat  has  remained  motionless  for 
a  time,  and  the  rattlesnake  ventures  near  to  investigate 
and  make  sure  it  is  dead,  one  faint  gasp  or  dying  struggle 
will  cause  the  reptile  to  dart  back  in  excessive  alarm,  and 
wait  again  some  minutes  before  venturing  near.  After  long 
and  patient  observations,  I  am  still  doubtful  whether 
stupidity  or  timidity  predominates  in  viperine  natures. 

Of  the  other  well-known  and  formidable  American 
Crotalidcs  is  the  ^ Fer  de  lance^  {Trigonocephaltis  lanceolatiis) 
of  the  Antilles  and  Central  America.  This  has  also  a 
pointed  tail.  The  Jararaca  of  Gray  {Grasped ocephaliis 
Braziliensis)  is  another,  but  without  the  point.  Of  the  true 
rattlesnakes,  Dumeril  gave  five  genera  in  1844,  viz.  Crotalo- 
phorus,  Crotalus,  Catidisona,  UrocrotaloJi,  and  UrosopJiits. 

From  the  two  species  originally  known,  we  see  how 
they  have  gradually  multiplied  as  the  country  has  been 
more  thoroughly  explored.  In  i860.  Dr.  Weir  Mitchel 
affirmed  that  twenty  species  had  been  then  described ; 
probably  the  most  recent  '  Reports '  or  Bulletins  will 
tell  us  of  yet  others.  And  these  latter  are  exclusive  of  the 
non-rattle-bearing  CrotalidcB. 

Dr.  Mitchel's  experiments  were  with  the  northern  species, 
xhicfly  Cro.  durissus ;    and  as  a  relief  from  this  wearisome 


classification,  some  of  his  observations  will  be  welcome. 
One  very  noteworthy  result  is  that  the  Crotalus  does 
occasionally  produce  a  sound  independently  of  the  rattle. 
Not  a  prolonged  hiss,  or  by  any  means  so  loud  as  the 
innocent  snakes,  but  merely  'the  expiration  of  air  from 
the  lungs  just  before  striking.'  I  have  never  observed 
or  heard  this  in  our  London  rattlesnakes,  but  it  no  doubt 
is  of  the  same  character  and  degree  of  sound  as  that 
produced  by  the  Cerastes  and  the  little  Echis,  and  which 
more  resembled  a  short,  feeble,  spitting  sound.  Still, 
as  we  are  informed  by  Dumeril  that  rattlesnakes  are 
'deprived  of  voice,'  it  is  interesting  to  know  that,  on  the 
authority  of  Dr.  Weir  Mitchel,  some  slight  sound,  though 
not  a  regular  hiss,  does  sometimes  accompany  the  action 
of  striking. 

An  inquiry  has  lately  met  the  eye  in  one  of  our  scientific 
journals  as  to  whether  a  rattlesnake  drinks.  Dr.  Mitchel 
clears  away  all  doubts  on  that  subject  by  impressing  upon 
those  who  keep  these  creatures  the  importance  of  giving 
them  plenty  of  water,  particularly  when  changing  the 
skin.  Deprived  of  it,  the  cuticle  comes  off*  unhealthily — 
desquamates,  in  fact,  in  bits.  At  the  casting  of  the  cuticle, 
or  previous  to  the  process,  they  will  not  only  drink,  he 
tells  us,  but  lie  for  hours  in  the  water.  When  they  were 
disinclined  to  eat,  and  had  fasted  long  enough  to  en- 
danger their  health,  he  fed  them  by  force  with  milk  and 
insects,  and  the  way  he  managed  was  to  get  their  mouths 
open  and  insert  a  tunnel  a  safe  distance  down  their  throat. 
While  held  in  this  position,  a  repast  consisting  of  insects 
and    milk    was    pushed    down   the   tube   of  the   tunnel   in 

390  SNAKES. 

sufficient  quantities.  The  most  surprising  circumstance  in 
connection  with  this  style  of  feeding,  and  also  with  the 
process  adopted  by  Dr.  Shortt  of  Madras  in  filling  his 
cobras  *  as  full  as  they  could  hold  '  with  sour  milk,  is  that 
these  fastidious  and  frightened  reptiles  did  not  disgorge 
the  diet.  Both  experimentalists,  however,  found  it  answer, 
reminding  us  of  some  advice  given  to  the  keeper  at  the 
London  Ophidarium  in  the  case  of  the  Hamadryad, 
which,  having  no  snakes  to  dine  off  one  winter,  elected 
to  fast.  To  force  frogs  or  fish  down  its  throat  was 
suggested ;  but  no  one  could  be  found  brave  enough  to 
undertake  the  task,  and  happily  '  Ophio '  survived  till  a 
relay  of  ring  snakes  arrived. 

Both  Mitchel  and  Coues  corroborate  what  has  been 
observed  by  others  regarding  the  increased  virulence  of 
the  bite  when  moulting ;  but  both  are  of  opinion  that  this 
is  owing  to  an  accumulation  of  venom,  as  the  snakes  have 
not  been  feeding  or  expending  their  store  for  some  days. 
Even  while  not  feeding,  their  venom  is  secreted  all  the 
same,  and  they  survive  many  months,  even  a  whole  year 
and  more,  without  food.  Dumeril  mentions  one  that  lived 
twenty-five  months  without  feeding. 

A  startling  and  almost  horrifying  demonstration  of  what 
physiologists  would  perhaps  attribute  to  nervous  or  to 
muscular  irritability  is  described  by  Dr.  Mitchel,  namely, 
an  action  that  had  been  begun  in  life,  carried  out  in  a 
headless  snake.  On  p.  281  was  described  the  astonish- 
ment of  Colonel  Beverley,  who  observed  the  severed  head 
of  a  rattlesnake  attempting  to  bite.  '  Then  the  head 
gave  a  sudden   champ.'      Long  after  a  snake  is  dead  the 


tongue  will  be  exserted  as  in  life  ;  and  in  other  actions 
they,  as  it  were,  carry  out  their  intentions  though  deprived 
of  vitality.  'The  headless  trunk  will  strike,'  says  Dr. 
Mitchel,  and  continue  to  do  this  when  touched  or  irritated 
as  if  it  still  had  its  head  and  its  fangs  to  strike  with ! 

Mr.  George  Catlin  in  his  Life  among  the  Indians  relates 
a  circumstance  of  this  kind  which  may  well  be  introduced 
here,  as  illustrative  of  this  amazing  fact — a  rattlesnake 
coiling  and  springing  after  it  is  decapitated.  His  party 
were  going  down  a  river,  and  had  just  landed  to  explore 
a  little,  when  he  saw  a  large  Crotalus,  and  seizing  his 
gun  fired  at  its  head.  At  the  same  moment  it  leaped 
and  sprang  towards  him,  apparently  striking  him  on  the 
breast,  Mr.  Catlin  being  on  the  point  of  leaping  back  into 
the  boat.  He  thought  he  had  fired  and  missed  his  aim, 
and  was  a  dead  man,  nevertheless  much  wondering  at 
having  missed  his  mark.  Meantime,  an  Indian,  seeing  a 
spot  of  blood  on  the  front  of  Mr.  Catlin's  linen  smock, 
exclaimed,  '  You  are  bitten ! '  and  without  ceremony  the 
smock  and  flannel  shirt  were  torn  open,  and  a  spot  of 
blood  on  his  breast  was  exposed  to  view.  Promptly  the 
blood  was  washed  off,  and  the  Indian  on  his  knees  had 
his  mouth  at  the  wound  preparing  to  suck  out  the  poison. 
Quickly  looking  up,  however,  he  rose  to  his  feet,  and 
with  a  smile  of  exultation  said,  'There's  no  harm!  You'll 
find  the  snake  without  its  head.' 

Stepping  ashore  again,  and  pushing  aside  the  long  grass, 
there,  sure  enough,  was  the  headless  rattlesnake,  coiled 
up  where  it  had  fallen,  and  with  its  headless  trunk  erect, 
ready  for    another  spring.     Mr.  Catlin  had   not  missed  fire, 

392  SAL4A'£S. 

but  the  creature  so  near  the  spring,  was  so  ready  at  the 
instant  with  its  aim  made,  that  it  leapt  and  struck  i\Ir.  CatHn 
probably  on  the  very  spot  where  it  would  have  bitten  him 
had  the  sportsman  missed  his  mark.  The  bleeding  trunk 
had  printed  its  stroke  with  blood,  driving  the  stain  through 
the  dress  to  the  skin.  '  How  curious  it  is,'  ]\Ir.  Catlin  remarks 
at  the  conclusion  of  his  narrative,  '  that  if  you  cut  off  the 
head  of  a  rattlesnake,  its  body  will  live  for  hours,  and  jump 
at  you  if  you  touch  it  with  a  stick,  when  if  you  break  his 
spine  near  the  tail,  with  even  a  feeble  blow,  it  is  dead  in  a 
minute.     This  we  proved  on  several  occasions.' 

Mr.  Catlin  also  helps  to  confirm  what  has  been  already 
stated  in  these  pages,  viz.  the  certainty  of  the  mate  being 
within  hearing  of  the  rattle,  and  responding  when  one  of 
them  sounds  an  alarm  ;  also  that  'they  can  track  each  other 
and  never  lose  company,  though  when  met  are  not  always 
seen  together,  so  that  if  we  kill  one  over-night  and  leave 
its  dead  body,  the  other  will  be  found  by  its  side  in  the 

A  near  relative  of  the  rattlesnake  is  the  '  copper-head,' 
TrigonocepJiahis  contortrix  of  the  United  States,  known  also 
as  the  '  Red  adder,'  and  the  '  Dumb  rattlesnake.'  It  is  the 
Boa  contortrix  of  Linnaeus,  who,  as  we  explained  above,  and 
also  in  chap,  ii.,  divided  the  Ophidia  into  only  three  or 
four  families,  calling  an  immense  number,  both  venomous  and 
harmless,  '  boas.' 

This  member  of  the  Crotalidcz  is  said  to  be  as  venomous  as 
the  rattlesnake,  and  is  much  more  dreaded,  because  it  has  no 
rattle  to  give  warning  of  its  proximity.  When  a  bitten  person 
survives,  the  effects  of  its  bite  are  said  to  be  felt  annually,  as 


In  the  case  of  the  rattlesnake,  and  the  injured  limb  'turns  the 
colour  of  the  snake.'  In  regard  to  this  latter  symptom,  said 
to  show  itself  in  the  case  of  so  many  snakes,  the  bitten  limb 
assumes  all  manner  of  horrible  tints  in  most  cases,  and  it 
does  not  require  a  great  stretch  of  imagination  to  detect 
colours  resembling  the  also  many-tinted  aggressors.  Still 
there  may  be  more  in  this  than  we  at  present  know  of 

In  the  cranberry  swamps  and  tamarack  marshes  in  the 
northern  districts  of  Ohio  formerly  were  found  immense 
numbers  of  a  small  and  very  dark  brown  rattlesnake  known 
as  the  Massasauga.  It  is  seen  lying  in  clusters  like  small 
twigs  on  dry  leaves,  and  still  is  found  in  considerable  numbers 
in  some  remote  districts.  The  illustration  of  the  small  rattle 
(p.  302)  was  sent  me  from  that  neighbourhood,  and  is,  I  believe, 
from  a  true  '  Massasauga.'  This  is  the  one  (as  I  think  I  am 
safe  in  stating)  that  was  first  (1810)  described  by  Dr.  Kirtland, 
a  distinguished  naturalist  of  Ohio,  and  after  him  named 
Crotalophoriis  Kirtlandi.  Its  range  is  confined  to  the  swampy 
districts  of  Northern  Ohio  and  Southern  Michigan.  Its 
rattle  being  scarcely  audible,  this  little  snake  gets  frequently 
trodden  upon,  and  persons  are  as  frequently  bitten  ;  but  Dr. 
Kirtland  stated  that  he  had  never  known  any  one  to  die  of 
its  bite,  which  is  scarcely  worse  than  the  sting  of  a  hornet. 
It  is  a  link  between  the  last-named  snake,  the  'copper-head,' 
and  the  rattlesnake,  having  head-shields  like  the  former,  and 
tail  of  the  latter.  These  small  species  no  doubt  help  to  add 
to  the  confusion  of  evidence  regarding  the  virulence  of 
rattlesnake  bites,  one  person  affirming  that  they  are  deadly, 
and  another,  that  recovery  is  common.  The  degree  of  venom 
between  the  smallest  and  the  largest  of  the  CrotalidcB  can  no 

394  SNAKES. 

more  be  compared  than  can  the  constriction  of  the  little  slow- 
worm  round  your  fingers  with  the  constriction  of  the  anaconda. 

A  word  in  conclusion  about  the  rattlesnake's  enemies  ; 
and  of  these  hogs  come  first,  next  to  man.  Wild  hogs, 
peccaries,  and  deer  in  their  native  haunts,  and  doubtless 
an  immense  number  of  snake-eating  birds,  devour  young 
rattlesnakes.  Deer  strike  them,  with  their  hoofs,  jumping  on 
them  with  wonderful  adroitness,  so  as  to  pin  them  down  with 
all  four  feet.  Pigs  in  the  west  derive  no  small  part  of  their 
subsistence  from  snakes  ;  and,  as  is  now  a  well-known  fact, 
the  introduction  of  hogs  has  done  more  than  anything  else — 
not  even  excepting  the  annual  battiie — to  diminish  the  number 
of  rattlesnakes.  The  venom  being  '  innocuous  to  hogs,'  is  a 
fact  only  partially  stated.  A  thin  hog,  bitten  on  a  vein, 
might  die  as  speedily  as  any  other  victim.  It  is  because  the 
venom  fails  to  penetrate  the  fat,  or,  as  Dr.  Coues  more  ably 
expresses  it,  '  the  fluid  fails  to  enter  the  circulation  through 
the  layer  of  adipose  tissue.'  Pigs  are  not  invariably 
exempt,  any  more  than  is  the  mongoose,  from  the  cobra's  bite. 
In  both  cases  adroitness  assists  the  animals  to  evade  the 
strike,  and  in  the  latter  case  the  thick  fur  of  the  mongoose  is 
as  great  a  protection  to  it  as  the  fat  is  to  the  hog. 

Dr.  Coues  mentions  a  danger  not  often  anticipated  in  dealing 
with  rattlesnakes  when  you  wish  to  examine  them.  This  is 
their  habit  of  twining  themselves  around  the  arm,  or  wherever 
they  can  get  hold.  *  Grasp  it  fearlessly  at  the  back  of  the 
neck,'  he  says ;  *  but  even  then  a  large  one  can  constrict  enough 
to  paralyze  both  arms.'  A  man  who  was  thus  trammelled 
had  to  be  relieved  by  a  bystander.  We  are  not  always  pre- 
pared for  constricting  rattlesnakes ! 



AND  MY  'discovery: 

THOUGH  there  are  only  about  eight  species  that  have  a 
legitimate  right  to  this  patronymic,  there  are — as  my 
readers  have  seen  in  chap.  xix. — great  numbers  of  *  strange- 
toothed  '  snakes  that  have  a  zoological,  or  rather  a  dentitional 
right  to  it.  The  present  chapter,  however,  will  comprise  only 
a  few  of  those  most  nearly  allied  to  the  recognised  Xenodons, 
which  with  Heterodon  must  occupy  some  pages. 

The  Xenodons  have  an  especial  interest,  not  only  on  account 
of  their  remarkable  dentition,  but  their  vernacular  names, 
which  in  Brazil,  where  these  snakes  are  common,  have  led  to 
much  and  frequent  confusion.  This  can  be  remedied  only 
after  considerable  lapse  of  time,  for  the  confusion  has  un- 
fortunately been  disseminated  in  print,  and  the  vernaculars' 
confused  by  local  prejudices,  still  obtain.  The  incident  of  my 
own  first  acquaintance  with  a  Xenodon  will  in  part  explain 
the  kind  of  puzzle  which  prevails  ;  and  a  little  personal 
gossip  about  this  may,  I  trust,  be  tolerated. 


396  SNAKES. 

A  snake  mentioned  by  a  number  of  writers  and  travellers 
as  the  Jararaca  had  plagued  me  long  and  terribly,  from  the 
contradictory  accounts  of  it.  What  is  this  Jararaca  ?  And  is 
it  the  same  as  the  larraracca  or  the  Ibiracua  or  the  Iraracit- 
assa  or  the  SJiiraraca^  or  several  other  nearly  similar  names 
which  appear  in  books  about  Brazil.  Had  one  gone  straight 
to  Gray  or  Dumeril,  the  recognised  and  scientific  name  for 
it  could  have  been  ascertained  at  once  ;  but  we  do  not  so 
readily  find  out  which  are  the  right  books  to  pounce  upon, 
nor  had  I  in  those  days  learnt  the  necessity  of  trusting  to 
scientific  w^orks  only  for  the  unravelling  of  travellers'  tales  ; 
but  I  hunted  in  dictionaries  and  encyclopedias  and  travels 
and  those  old  authors  again,  but  with  no  better  success. 

In  Wallace's  Travels  in  the  Amazon  we  read  :  '  Hansringf 
up  under  the  eaves  of  our  shed  was  a  dried  head  of  a  snake 
which  had  been  killed  a  short  time  before.  It  was  2.  Jararaca, 
a  species  of  CraspedocepJialus^  and  must  have  been  of  formid- 
able size,  for  its  poison  fangs,  four  in  number,  were  nearly 
an  inch  long.  .  .  .  The  bite  of  such  would  be  certain 

With  this  picture  oi  a  large  Brazilian  serpent,  drawn  by 
such  an  authority  as  Wallace,  one  read  in  Ogilvy's  dictionary  : 
'Jararaca.  A  species  of  serpent  in  America,  seldom 
exceeding  eighteen  inches  in  length  ;  having  prominent  veins 
on  the  head,  and  of  a  dusky,  brov.mish  colour,  variegated  with 
red  and  black  spots.' 

Then  Webster — evidently  from  the  same  source:  'A 
species  of  serpent  in  America,' — word  for  word  the  same  as 
far  as  the  black  spots—'  very-  poisonous.  Native  name  in 
Surinam.'     And    in  a  newer   edition,  Webster,  in    addition, 


gives  its  scientific  name,  Bothrops  Jararaca\  and  that  it  is  *  a 
native  to  {sic)  Brazil.' 

*  Oh  !  if  a  Bothrops,  then  it  is  one  of  the  Crotalidce'  was  the 
decision  arrived  at.  Kingsley,  in  his  At  Last,  mentions 
a  '  mangrove  snake,  much  dreaded  by  being  so  Hke  the 
deadly  Cascobel,  viz.  Ti'igonoccphahis  jararaca'  Thus 
with  our  puzzle  we  combine  a  Bothfops  with  the  'pit;' a 
Trigonocephahis  with  the  worst  of  the  viperine  heads ;  and 
according  to  Wallace,  a  Craspedoccphahis,  which,  at  a 
guess,  must  be  that  it  has  something  rough  about  the  head 
to  entitle  it  to  this  specific. 

Few  of  the  encyclopedias  described  it  individually,  or 
threw  more  light  upon  it.  Worcester's  dictionary  states  that 
the  Jararaca  is  '  a  species  of  venomous  American  serpent 
seldom  exceeding  eighteen  inches  ;'  and  gives  Wright  as  an 
authority.  Spix  and  Martin  1  in  their  list  of  venomous 
snakes  describe  Jararaaicii,  called  also  Shiraraca,  as  a 
Bothrops ;  and  also  a  Jararaca  mirim,  a  small  one.     Marc- 


gravius^  figures  a  lararaca^  a  small  snake  of  a  bright  red 
with  black  spots. 

And  now  for  our  old  friend  the  Pilgrim  Purchas.  *  Of 
snakes  that  have  Poison,  Jararaca  is  a  Name  that  compre- 
hendeth  foure  kinds.  The  first  is  the  greatest  /.  There 
are  other  smaller  Jararacas,  about  half  a  Yard  long.  They 
have  certaine  Veines  in  their  Head  like  the  Vipers.' 

Have  those  'prominent  veins  anything  to  do  with  its 
name  CraspedocepJialus ' }  But  how  about  its  being  only 
eighteen    inches  ?      This  was   the   pursuit  of  snakes    under 

^   Travels  in  Brazil.     London,  1824. 

^  Historice  Rervm  Natvralivm  Brazilia.     Antwerp. 

398  SNAKES. 

difficulties,  the  clearing  away  of  which  was  accomplished 
only  by  slow  degrees,  as  one  book  after  another  offered  new 
contradictions  with  still  other  varieties  of  spelling.  Without 
doubt  this  perplexing  reptile  was  viperine,  rough,  angular- 
headed,  crotaline,  and  probably  hideous  ;  but  as  for  colouring 
there  were  many  doubts  about  that. 

After  several  years'  familiarity  w^ith  the  7iaine  of  this 
puzzling  '  Jararaca,'  and  curiosity  increasing  at  a  correspond- 
ing ratio,  the  reader  can  imagine  the  effect  produced  by 
unexpectedly  seeing  at  the  London  Zoological  Gardens  one 
day  in  September  1880  a  new  label  to  one  of  the  cages 
in  the  Ophidarium  thus  inscribed,  *  Craspedocephalus 
Braziliensis.  The  Jarraracca.  Presented  by  Dr. 

A  live  Jararaca  at  last !     Now  we  shall  know  all  about  it. 

But  how  is  this  }  The  serpent  before  me  was  not  a  viper, 
not  rough-headed,  not  a  Bothrops,  because  it  had  only  one 
pair  of  nostrils.  It  had  smooth,  polished  scales,  large, 
beautiful,  round  eyes,  with  no  'red  spots*  and  not  a  spice  of 
venom  or  of  viperishness  about  it.  And  I  stood  staring  and 
wondering,  and — I  must  confess — disappoijited  ^at  th.\s  nitok- 
looking,  smallish  snake  being  a  representative  of  the  terrible, 
*  formidable '  picture  that  had  been  conjured  up.  *  I  don't 
believe  that's  a  Jararaca  ! '  were  my  inward  conclusions.  '  I 
am  sure  it  isn't !  It  cant  be.  It  does  not  agree  in  any 
way.'  Then  came  the  keeper  to  the  cage,  to  tell  me  of 
this  new  and  valuable  addition  ;  but  I  only  repeated  aloud 
my  already  firm  convictions. 

*  Here's  the  gentleman  who  brought  it  from  Brazil,  and 
he  ought  to  know,'  returned  the  keeper  in  justifiable  argu- 

THE  XE  NO  DONS.  399 

ment    as   he   motioned    with   his  hand   towards   a   stran^^er 
by  his  side.     The  name  of  Dr.  Arthur  Stradh'ng,  a  Corre- 
sponding Member  of  the   Zoological   Society,   was  already 
known   to   me.     Though   personally   unacquainted,  he   had, 
indeed,  through  the  columns  of  Land  and  Water ^  replied  to 
some   communications    of   my  own.      This  informal   intro- 
duction,   therefore,    led    easily   to    the   exchange    of  a   few 
words    about   this    contradictory   'Jararaca,'    the    name   by 
which — as  he  assured  me — the  snake  was  known  in  Brazil. 
He  had   not,  he   said,  examined   the   mouth  of  this   snake 
during   the   voyage  home,   knowing   its    deadly   character  ; 
and    had    simply   accepted    it   as    the    * Jarraracca,'   accord- 
ing to  its   Brazilian  vernacular.      I   ventured   to  point   out 
the    non-viperine   aspect  of  the   so-called    *  deadly '   reptile 
before  us,  and  suggested  that  if  it  were  indeed   venomous 
it    could    only   be  an   elaps,   also  that  there  were  probably 
several    that  were   known    by  this   name.      This   led   to  a 
correspondence,  both  by  letter  and  through  the  columns  of 
Land  and   Water  (Oct.   1880),  on  the  subject  of  vernacular 
names  ;  but  as  these  belong  more  especially  to  the  ensuing 
chapter,  I  need  only  say  here  that  Dr.  Stradling  returned  to 
Brazil  determined  to  investigate  this  confusion  of  names,  and 
I  thus  gained  a  valuable  ally  in  my  endeavours  to  identify 
some   of    the    perplexing    vernaculars   of    Brazil    w^ith    the 
scientific  descriptions. 

On  a  subsequent  voyage,  Dr.  Stradling  obtained  three 
more  of  these  so-called  Jararacas,  and  described  them  by 
letter,  and  subsequently  in  Land  and  Water. 

Echoing  my  own  perplexities,  he  asks,  'Is  there  such 
a   snake   as   the    Jarraracca  ?       When    I    got    three   more 

400  SNAKES. 

living  specimens  of  the  same  this  last  voyage  in  Pernambuco, 
I  began  to  have  my  doubts,  for  I  could  not  reconcile 
them  with  the  description  at  all.  One  died,  which  fact 
I  did  not,  by  ill  luck,  discover  till  it  was  worthless  ;  but 
I  observed,  as  I  thought,  a  well-developed  fang.  A  few 
days  later  a  good  opportunity  presented  itself  for  picking 
up  one  of  the  survivors  and  examining  its  mouth  ;  then 
to  my  surprise  I  found  that  the  supposed  fang  was  really 
a  large  curved  tooth,  situated  quite  out  of  the  natural 
position  of  a  fang,  but  symmetric  with  one  on  the  opposite 
side.  Then  I  looked  at  the  other  one,  and  finally  let  both 
bite  me,  which  settled  the  matter.  I  set  it  down  as  Xenodon 
(a  harmless  snake),  and  was  gratified  to  find  on  reaching 
home  that  Dr.  Giinther  had  pronounced  my  specimen  at  the 
Gardens '  (the  one  brought  the  previous  September)  '  Xenodon 
rhabdocephalns,  the  long-headed  snake,  on  its  death.  But  I 
don't  find  any  mention  of  this  extraordinary  isolated  tooth 
anywhere,  though  I  have  a  vague  idea  that  Dr.  Wucherer, 
who  has  perhaps  been  the  most  earnest  student  of  the 
Brazilian  Thanatophidia,  spoke  of  it  in  a  communication 
to  the  Society  some  years  ago.  The  real  "Jarraracca"  is 
still  veiled  in  mystery.'  I  also  was  '  gratified '  to  find 
the  Corresponding  Member  of  the  Zoological  Society 
so  generously  justifying  my  doubts  about  the  supposed 
Jararaca,  both  in  his  letter  to  me  and  in  a  paper  to 
Land  and  Water,  2d  April  1881. 

This  was  the  first  time  I  had  ever  heard  of  a  Xenodon, 
a  name  which  Dr.  Giinther  was  then  so  good  as  to  explain 
meant  '  strange  tooth  ; '  and  he  drew  a  little  diagram  of  the 
jaw  with  five  simple  teeth  curving  back,  and  then  a  long. 

THE .  XENOD  ONS.  40 1 

fang-like  back  tooth.  Strange  indeed !  Heterodon  I  knew 
possessed  a  large,  fang-like  tooth,  which  had  caused  it  to  be 
called  ugly  names.     Now  here  is  more  heterodox  dentition. 

Dr.  Wucherer's  account  of  the  Xenodon  was  discovered  in 
the  Zoological  Society  Proceedings  for  1861.  He  also  had  been 
a  C.M.Z.S.^  in  the  same  region,  and  his  report  of  the  curious 
Xenodon  rJiabdocephabis  is  that  it  is  v^ery  voracious,  feeding 
chiefly  on  frogs,  but  will  swallow  his  friend  too,  should  the 
latter  have  hold  of  one  on  which  he  has  set  his  heart. 
It  flattens  itself  remarkably,  and  thus  gets  through  a  very 
narrow  chink.  It  is  a  fresh-water  snake,  called  Cobra  d'aqua 
in  Brazil,  also  Siiriicucic  (from  its  evil  reputation).  But  Dr. 
Wucherer  says  not  a  word  of  those  fang-like  teeth. 

Meanwhile  Dr.  Stradling  had  most  kindly  sent  me 
the  magnificent  specimen  of  '  Ctirncucn'  {LacJiesis  nuitus)^  in 
spirits  ;  and  this,  together  with  the  investigation  of  certain 
other  vernaculars,  made  the  Xenodon  of  only  secondary 
interest  in  our  correspondence  until  exactly  six  months 
afterwards,  when,  on  landing,  June  1 881,  he  wrote  that  he 
was  sending  a  Heterodon  and  another  Xenodon  to  the  Gardens. 

'  Where  are  the  new  snakes  } '  I  asked  the  keeper,  hurrying 
to  the  Reptilium  early  next  day. 

'  What  new  snakes,  ma'am }  There  are  none  fresh  since 
you  were  last  here.' 

*  Ah,  well,  they  are  coming !  IMost  interesting  kinds.  I 
shall  wait  for  them.' 

Sure  enough,  ere  long  a  boy  was  seen  approaching  from 
the  oflice  with  a  *  box  of  snakes.'  He  also  brought  the 
news  that  the  Doctor  was  expected  '  directly.' 

^  Corresponding  Member  of  the  Zoological  Society. 

2  C 

402  SNAKES. 

Consigned  to  their  cage,  how  I  hovered  about  those 
'  strange  -  toothed  *  Colubers  that  long  midsummer  day! 
How  I  wished  they  would  bring  their  heads  close  to  the  glass 
and  yawn  the  widest  of  yawns,  and  how  I  waited  for  the 
ophiological  dentist  to  come  and  exhibit  their  '  fangs ! '  for 
the  donor  of  these  valuable  acquisitions  had  been  devoting 
himself  to  the  discovery  of  antitoxics,  and  was  supposed 
to  be  snake-proof,  and  to  do  what  he  pleased  with  both 
venomous  and  non-venomous  kinds.  But  the  long  mid- 
summer day  waxed  on,  and  I  gazed  at  the  Xenodon  till  I 
knew  every  mark  of  his  leaf-like  pattern  ;  and  the  day 
began  to  wane,  and  my  hopes  of  seeing  the  wonderful  teeth 
beo-an  to  wane  also.  And  I  felt  I  had  a  sort  of  claim 
upon  this  Xenodo7t,  the  'Jarraracca'  about  which  we  had 

I  had  relied  so  much  on  having  the  pseudo-fangs  scientifi- 
cally displayed  to  me,  that  when  the  visitors  were  depart- 
ing and  the  keeper  was  at  liberty,  I  told  him  about  these 
strange  teeth  which  I  was  so  anxious  to  see,  and  at  last 
persuaded  him  to  open  Xcjiodons  mouth  for  me,  and  to 
hold  it  open  (which  operation  the  keepers  understand  very 
well)  while  I  made  the  dental  examination  myself 

After  all  there  was  nothing  in  the  shape  of  a  fang  to  be 
seen ! 

'  Posterior  tooth  long,  compressed ' !  '  Last  tooth  very 
long,  compressed,  ensiform  ' !  and  so  on,  said  the  authorities  ; 
but  nothing  of  the  kind  was  here  !  I  could  see  to  its  very 
throat,  and  the  rows  of  tiny  palate  teeth  and  the  four  rows 
of  jaw  teeth,  all  exceedingly  small,  but  never  a  fang.  So  I 
stared  and  wondered,  and  then  in  my  bewildered  amazement 

THE  XE  NO  DONS.  403 

and  vexation  I  passed  my  little  finger  along  the  jaws  and 
felt  the  upper  teeth. 

This  practical  investigation  no  doubt  greatly  offended 
the  imprisoned  patient,  for  suddenly  down  came  a  pair  of 
regular  fangs — they  looked  like  fangs  ; — and  as  my  finger 
pressed  the  jaw  on  one  or  on  the  other  side,  I  saw  these 
fang-like  teeth  move,  vibrate,  exactly  like  the  viperine 
fangs.  When  my  finger  was  removed,  up  they  went,  folded 
back  in  their  sheath  in  true  viperine  fashion.  My  finger 
got  a  slight  prick,  for  they  were  exceedingly  sharp  ;  but 
know^ing  there  was  no  venom  in  them,  that  did  not  concern 
me,  and  in  a  few  minutes  the  sensation  was  gone.  But  how 
was  it  that  Dr.  Stradling  had  made  no  mention  of  this 
extraordinary  viperine  mobility  of  the  fangs  ?  And  what 
kind  of  jaw  must  a  snake  have  to  move  its  back  teeth  in 
this  manner !  For  we  saw  in  the  previous  chapters  that 
the  mobility  of  the  fangs  is  in  proportion  to  the  diminishing 
length  of  the  maxillary  bone,  that  the  excessive  mobility 
of  the  viperine  fang  is  owing  to  the  greatly  reduced  size  of 
that  bone,  that  a  slight  mobility  is  observable  where  the 
jaw  is  somewhat  less  reduced,  and  so  on  ;  but  here  is  a 
harmless  Coluber  with  a  jaw  long  enough  to  hold  five  or 
six  fixed,  simple  teeth,  and  then  an  extremely  mobile  long 
one  at  the  back.  Can  the  jaw  be  divided  in  the  middle  ? 
Thus  I  marvelled. 

*  Now  let  us  look  at  Heterodon.' 

But  that  pretty  little  snake  positively  refused  to  open  its 
mouth  ;  so,  fearing  to  alarm  it,  or  cause  it  to  disgorge  its 
last  meal,  I  did  not  encourage  its  forcible  detention. 

Not  to  lose  a  moment,  I  then  and  there  pencilled  a  note  to 

404  SNAKES. 

Dr.  Stradling,  begging  him  to  tell  me  if  he  had  observed 
anything  unusual  in  Xcnodoiis  '  fangs/  That  I  had  ex- 
amined them  and  seen  what  appeared  very  extraordinary  ; 
but  before  describing  it,  was  desirous  of  having  my 
observations  confirmed  by  him. 

But  the  Dr.  had  been  unexpectedly  appointed  to  another 
ship,  which  would  sail  immediately.  Many  weeks  must, 
therefore,  elapse  before  his  reply  could  reach  me. 

That  day  there  was  but  one  direction  to  which  my 
ophidian  compass  directed  my  steps,  viz.  the  British 
Museum  ;  and  several  days  were  spent  there  hunting  every 
possible  book  to  find  any  mention  of  Xenodoiis  moveable 
teeth,  but  in  vain.  Surely  a  feature  so  exceptional  would 
have  been  described  had  it  been  observed.  Pardon,  kind 
reader,  these  many  words  about  '  so  small  an  affair ; '  but 
you  who  are  naturalists  know  the  peculiar  charm  of  finding 
'  something  new,'  producing,  as  Charles  Kingsley  described, 
'  emotions  not  unmixed  with  awe,'  that  among  the  happy 
memories  of  study  or  of  travel  '  stand  out  as  beacon  points.* 
It  was  my  great  ambition  to  add  '  something  new  '  to  science. 
But  here  was  I  with  a  secret '  discovery,'  and  not  knowing  what 
to  do  with  it.  And  '  if  anything  should  happen '  to  Xenodon 
meanwhile !  Then  the  keeper  would  be  reprimanded. 
Plainly,  courtesy  demanded  that  the  secretary  of  the  London 
Zoological  Society  should  receive  an  explanation  of  my 
infringement  of  rules  ;  therefore,  in  a  letter  to  him,  I  described 
Xeiiodon's  whole  history.  I  also  wrote  a  detailed  account 
of  Xenodon  to  a  friend  who  edited  a  zoological  publication, 
under  the  delusion  that  I  should  be  invited  to  contribute  a 
full,  true,  and  particular   account  of  these  wonderful  teeth 

THE  XE  NO  DONS.  405 

to  half  the  zoological  journals  of  Europe  !  '  First  observed 
by  C.  C.  H. ! '     But  no  ! 

Weeks  of  wondering  suspense  passed  by.  Then  everybody 
went  *  out  of  town.'  On  meeting  Dr.  Giinther  one  day  at  the 
British  Museum,  I  told  him  what  I  had  seen.  '  The  teeth  or 
the  jaw  moves  } '  he  asked  catechetically.  That  I  could  not 
explain,  as  it  was  precisely  what  one  wished  to  ascertain. 
'  You  must  dissect  that  snake,'  he  said,  adding  that  he  had 
had  no  time  to  examine  it  yet.  All  this  was  duly  reported 
to  my  Brazilian  correspondent,  who  with  a  generous  impulse 
promised  to  send  me  '  the  very  first  Xenodoii '  he  got  Alas  ! 
as  I  told  him,  it  was  useless  to  give  it  to  me,  who  could 
neither  kill  nor  cut  up  snakes.  He  did  not  inform  me 
whether  he,  also,  had  observed  any  mobility  in  the  '  fangs  ; ' 
so  I  could  not  yet  flatter  myself  that  I  had  '  added  to 
science'  in  anyway.  Professor  Halford,  when  in  England, 
had  dissected  the  head  of  the  dead  specimen  at  the  Zoo- 
logical Gardens  (the  supposed  Jarraraccd)  for  poison  glands, 
but  of  course  found  none  ;  and  I  trusted  to  some  scientific 
friend  *  happening  by '  who  would  further  examine  its 
maxillary  bone  and  report  to  me  ;  but  ophiological  anatomists 
do  not  present  themselves  every  day.  Dr.  Stradling  was 
absent ;  so  unless  other  enthusiasts  proceed  to  an  examination 
before  this  page  meets  the  public  eye,  there  will  still  remain 
these  *  strange-toothed  '  maxillaries  inviting  dissection. 

Dr.  Stradling,  however,  after  a  while  informed  me  that  he 
had  not  observed  the  mobility  of  the  fangs,  nor  had  he 
seen  any  mention  of  such  anywhere  excepting  in  my  paper 
to  Land  and  Water  (July  9,  1881).  He  thought  those 
pseudo-fangs  'of  considerable  importance  in  bearing  on  the 

4o6  SNAKES. 

experiments  that  were  then  being  carried  on  in  Brazil  with 
permanganate  of  potash,  and  particularly  should  a  non- 
ophiologist  be  the  experimenter.'  A  snake  is  brought  as  a 
'Jararaca,'  a  name  applied  by  the  authorities  to  one  of 
the  very  deadly  viperine  snakes.  This  snake — the  so- 
called  'Jararaca' — bears  an  evil  character.  It  has  also 
very  suspicious-looking  'fangs.'  It  bites  an  animal  which 
is  put  under  treatment,  and  though  requiring  no  treatment 
whatever,  a  supposed  '  antidote '  might  get  all  the  credit 
of  a  'cure.'  He  did  not  for  a  moment  infer  that  such 
had  been  the  case  in  Brazil  with  those  scientific  experi- 
mentalists, but  only  what  might  be  in  consequence  of  the 
confusion  in  names.  And  the  correspondence  on  this  subject 
that  appeared  in  the  papers  during  the  latter  part  of  October 
1 88 1  certainly  did  betray  some  confusion  between  the  various 
Jaraj-acas  and  Jara7'aciiats  that  had  inflicted  bites. 

Dr.  StradHng  had  also  looked  in  the  mouth  of  the  dead 
specimen  of  Xenodon  r/iabdocep/iahts,  and  he  informed 
me  that  one  of  the  'fangs'  came  out  in  his  hand.  'It 
did  not  break  off,'  he  wrote;  'and  its  articulation  with 
the  bone,  if  any,  must  be  loose  and  ligamentous.'  I  must 
not  presume  to  offer  any  opinion  about  its  'articulation,' 
except  that  its  being  'loose'  might  be  only  in. consequence 
of  a  new  tooth  pushing  it  out,  or  that  it  was  about  to  fall 
out  of  itself  My  readers  will  unite  in  thanking  Dr.  Stradling 
for  considerately  forwarding  me  this  'fang,'  which  so  con- 
veniently detached  itself  in  time  to  be  added  to  the  rest 
of  the  illustrations,  fig.  e,  presented  on  p.  360.  It  will  be 
observed  that  it  is  a  stouter  and  less  symmetrical  tooth 
than  the  true  fangs ;  but  it  was  very  large  in  proportion 


to  the  simple  teeth  in  the  same  jaw  and  on  the  palate, 
and  which  are  not  bigger  than  the  palate  teeth  seen  behind 
the  recumbent  fangs  of  Daboia,  p.  349. 

Of  these  true  Xenodons  there  are  eight  species ;  but 
the  strange-toothed  group  includes  Tomodon,  Heterodon, 
Simotes,  Liophis,  and  several  others  that  have  large 
posterior  teeth,  some  of  which  are  grooved,  others  not, 
but  all  without  a  poison  gland. 

Searching  page  after  page  about  Xenodon,  something 
one  day  suddenly  caught  my  eye  that  had  hitherto  escaped 
notice.  In  his  Odontography,  Owen,  describing  the  South 
African  snakes  BiicepJiali,  says :  '  Their  long  grooved  fangs 
are  firmly  fixed  to  the  maxillary  bone,  or  are  slightly 
moveable  according  to  their  period  of  growth  ;  they  are  con- 
cealed by  a  sheath  of  thick,  soft  gum,  containing  loose, 
recumbent,  grooved  teeth  ready  to  succeed  those  in  place.' 

'  So,  then,  a  mobile  tooth  was  already  known  to  science.' 
Of  Bucephali  viridis,  Dr.  Andrew  Smith  describes  the  '  pos- 
terior or  mobile  and  grooved  teeth  of  the  maxilla.'  He  says  : 
*  Some  are  placed  for  immediate  use,  the  rest  are  recumbent 
between  those  and  the  inner  portion  of  the  spongy  sheath 
which  envelops  them  ;  anterior  teeth  fixed.'  He  considered 
these  back  teeth  not  poisonous,  but  only  for  holding  or 
preventing  the  escape  of  food.  *  They  may  convey  an  acrid 
saliva.'     Still  we  are  not  informed  hoiu  the  teeth  move.^ 

These  snakes — the  Bucephali — like  the  far-famed  horse 
of  Alexander  the  Great,  owe  their  name  to  their  large, 
ox-shaped  head.  They  are  the  '  Boomslangc '  or  tree 
snake  of  the  Dutch  settlers,  and  are  by  some  ophiologists 

^  Zoology  of  South  Africa. 

4o8  SNAKES. 

included  among  the  DcndrophidcB,  or  true  tree  snakes,  as 
they  live  in  trees ;  but  Dr.  Andrew  Smith  considers  that 
their  teeth  sufficiently  separate  them  from  these. 

That  there  is  something  exceedingly  interesting  to  study 
out  in  th.t  Xenodon  family  cannot  be  doubted.  'The  transi- 
tion begun  in  the  Bucephali,'  says  Owen/  '  is  completed 
in  the  poisonous  serpents/  but  where  the  virulent  character 
of  the  saliva  begins  it  is  hard  to  say. 

Despairing  of  any  distinct  comprehension  of  a  jaw-bone 
which  permits  of  moveable  back  teeth,  the  last  resource  was 
to  hunt  up  a  skeleton.  At  the  Museum  of  the  Royal 
College  of  Surgeons  none  was  to  be  found  ;  but  through  the 
kindness  of  the  officials  at  the  British  Museum,  one  was  at 
length  unearthed  from  the  subterranean  labyrinths  of  un- 
told treasures  there.  It  was  the  skull  of  X.  gigas,  the 
largest  of  the  family,  and  a  splendid  specimen  for  examina- 
tion. There  were  two  large  posterior  fangs  on  each  side. 
On  one  side  were  two  or  three  more  large  reserve  fangs — a 
cluster  of  them.  All  were  recumbent.  They  were  all  much 
larger  than  that  of  X.  rhabdocephahis,  those  in  reserve  vary- 
ing in  size  relatively  to  their  development  and  position. 
In  this  specimen  there  were  also  two  double  rows  of  palate 
teeth,  and  an  abundant  but  most  disorderly  row  of  simple 
teeth  in  the  lower  jaw,  with  some  reserv^e  ones  packed 
closely  on  the  inner  side  below  the  row  in  use.  They 
exactly  illustrated  the  words  of  Nicholson  and  others,  '  the 
crop  of  young  teeth  everywhere  working  their  way  into  the 
intervals  of  the  old  ones.' 

In    the    skulls    of  LiopJiis   meremii   and    LiopJiis    cobella, 

^  Odontography,  vol.  i.  p.  225. 


of  which  Dr.  Wucherer  says,  '  Dentition  similar  to  Xenodon,' 
the  former  had  teeth  gradually  increasing  a  trifle  posteriorly, 
but  nothing  like  fangs.  L,  cobella  had  a  very  long  jaw  of 
fifteen  or  sixteen  teeth,  but  no  fangs. 

On  .  a  second  occasion  I  made  a  dental  examination  of 
the  living  Xenodon  in  order  to  be  fully  convinced  of  the 
nature  of  its  back  teeth,  and  in  both  instances  the  fangs 
were  depressed  until  the  snake  was  provoked  into  display- 
ing them..  It  exhibited  no  spitefulness  or  attempt  to  bite, 
and  in  both  cases  folded  back  its  fangs  the  moment  my 
finger  was  removed,  as  if  glad  that  the  ceremony  was  over. 

Heterodon  d'Orbignyi,  being  a  small  and   delicate  snake, 
was   not  again    enticed    to  exhibit   its   jaws ;    but   my    for- 
bearance was  otherwise  rewarded.     One  day  it  was  dining 
off  a    rather   large    frog,  and  its   mouth,  close  to   the  glass, 
was  stretched    open    to   its   fullest    extent.     The    frog   had 
disappeared    so    far    as    to    be   within    the  mouth,  wedging 
it    wide   open ;    and  I  then    saw  a    fang    well   erected   and 
in   use,    moving^    being    detached,    in    fact,    from    the    food. 
It    appeared    to    be    somewhat    nearer    to     the    front    than 
Xenodons   fangs,  with   perhaps   only    three   or   four   simple 
teeth  before  it.     But  that  it  was  a  sheathed  fang-  and  mobile 
I  have  no  doubt  whatever,  having  seen  it  very  distinctly.     I 
told    Tyrrell  at  the  time   that   Heterodon' s  fangs  were  also 
moveable  ;  but  now  for  the  first  time  I  impart  this  new  secret 
to  the  public.      Xenodon   also   greedily  seizes   upon   incon- 
veniently large  frogs,  but  it  has  never  displayed   its    fangs 
to  me  while  feeding,  as  the  pretty  little  Heterodon  did.     One 
more  singular  thing  did  this  little  Heterodon,  and  that  was 
to  assist  itself  by  coiling  its  body  round  an  unmanageable 

41  o  .         SNAKES. 

frog  one  day.  It  did  not  regularly  constrict  it  in  order  to 
kill  it ;  but  wheti  caught  in  the  mouth,  it  helped  itself  to 
restrain  the  straggling  limbs  by  a  few  coils.  Dr.  Wucherer 
affirms  that  he  had  never  seen  its  congeners  LiopJiis  or 
Xenodon  squeeze  or  coil  themselves  round  their  prey,  but 
Heterodon  d' Orbignyi  certainly  does. 

Another  peculiarity  of  the  American  Heterodoiis  is  that  of 
flattening  their  heads  and  the  upper  part  of  the  body  when 
angry  or  molested.  It  is  this,  together  with  their  pseudo- 
fangs,  that  have  procured  them  the  name  of  '  spread-head,' 
'  spreading-adder,'  'puffing-adder'  or  'blowing  viper,' — ■ 
because  at  the  same  time  they  hiss  violently, — or  simply 
*  the  adder,'  and  '  biausser,'  or  the  blower. 

There  are  several  species  of  them,  all,  with  the  exception 
of  H.  d'Orbignyi,  having  undeniably  ugly,  viperish-looking 
heads,  *  Angiiis  capites  viperinol  or  '  Serpent  a  la  iete  de  vipere! 
The  snout  terminates  in  a  large,  conspicuous,  recurved  scale 
which  gives  them  a  pug-nosed  or  rather  a  hog-nosed  appear- 
ance. Catesby,  who  was  the  first  to  describe  the  '  hog-nosed 
snake,'  said  '  it  hath  a  visage  terrible  and  ugly.'  In  H.  niger 
and  H.platirJmios  this  is  most  apparent.  They  belong  mostly 
to  the  New  World,  both  north  and  south.  One  in  Virginia 
is  called,  from  its  bright  markings,  the  '  calico  snake,'  the 
word  calico  in  America  being  applied  chiefly  to  coloured 
prints  used  for  dresses.  Another  is  called  '  the  mountain 
moccasin,'  the  latter  name  in  the  United  States  being 
applied  to  venomous  kinds. 

In  the  flattening  of  the  head  and  body,  Xenodon  and 
Heterodon  approach  the  cobras  ;  in  the  strange  dentition 
they   approach    the   vipers  ;  in    their  true  nature  they   are 


harmless  colubers  :  thus  do  we  see  the  wonderful  links  or 
gradations  between  opposite  families,  which  have  been 
such  a  perplexity  to  the  early  naturalist. 

The  Heterodons  have  the  reputation  of  *  feigning  death  ' 
when  annoyed.  This  peculiarity  has  been  commented  on 
by  many  who  have  experimented  upon  the  snake  for  this 
purpose.  Holbrooke  observed  it  in  H.  platirJiinos,  and 
came  to  the  conclusion  that  it  was  done  at  will.  '  It  will 
deceive  its  tormentor  by  feigning  death,  remaining  flat  and 
motionless.'  It  otherwise  *  flattens  the  head  and  upper  part 
of  the  neck,  which  it  lifts  and  waves,  hissing  loudly.'  This 
is  the  true  cobra  manner.  He  often  worried  it  and  tried  to 
make  it  bite,  when  it  only  projected  its  head  in  that  menac- 
ing way,  but  with  closed  mouth.  On  the  contrary,  other 
experimentalists  describe  it  with  widely  expanded  jaws 
when  thus  annoyed.  In  an  excellent  American  magazine, 
Science  Nezvs,  the  Heterodons  formed  the  subject  of  several 
papers  a  few  years  ago.  To  my  friend,  Mr.  J.  E.  Harting, 
I  am  indebted  for  some  numbers  of  Science  News,  in 
which  Heterodons'  performances  are  fully  described.  One, 
on  being  intercepted  in  its  retreat,  '  threw  its  head  back 
with  widely  expanded  jaws  ;  but  instead  of  striking,  it  turned 
completely  over  on  its  back,  remaining  stiff  and'  motion- 
less, with  jaws  fixed  in  rigid  expansion,  feigning  death.' 
Reptilian  intellect  was,  however,  insufficient  to  carry  out 
the  feint,  inasmuch  as  its  full  muscular  power  was  exercised 
to  maintain  its  position.  '  On  concealing  myself,'  continues 
the  narrator,  '  it  cautiously  righted  itself  and  made  off ; 
but  only  to  repeat  the  ruse  when   again    caught.'^     Dr.    J. 

'  Science  NeivSy  Feb.  15,  1S79. 

412  SNAKES. 

Schneck,  in  the  March  number  for  the  same  year,  describes  a 
similar  action  on  his  worrying  them  with  a  switch,  when, 
after  making  futile  efforts  to  attack,  they  would  seem  to 
bite  themselves  (which  they  really  never  do),  and  then  turn 
on  their  backs  as  if  dead.  After  a  few  moments  of  quiet 
they  would  turn  over  and  beat  a  hasty  retreat.  Several 
other  writers  in  Science  Neius  confirm  Holbrooke's  exper- 
ience, that  '  under  no  provocation  can  it  be  induced  to  bite.' 
Those  we  have  seen  at  the  Gardens  verify  this  ;  exhibiting 
an  extremely  inoffensive  nature,  though  no  death-feigning 
or  summersault  performances.  And  I  am  more  inclined  to 
attribute  the  rigidity  to  a  sort  of  paralyzed  terror  than  to 
any  pretence  of  being  dead.  The  same  thing  is  observed 
in  some  insects.  If  you  blow  on  them  or  alarm  them,  they 
will  flatten  themselves  against  whatever  they  may  be 
crawling  on,  and  cling  close  and  stiff  as  if  dead,  but 
presently  escape.  Some  other  snakes,  also,  as  well  as  the 
Heterodons^  keep  rigidly  still  as  if  paralyzed  when  molested, 
previous  to  attempting  any  escape,  though  I  do  not  remem- 
ber any  others  that  turn  over  on  their  backs  in  so  singular 
a  fashion. 

A   few    more   words    about    the    Deirodon    with    its    still 
stranger  teeth  must  come  in  the  next  chapter. 




IN  a  lecture  on  '  Chameleons '  at  the  Zoological 
Gardens,  Professor  St.  George  Mivart  described  in 
his  peculiarly  lucid,  facile  manner,  some  of  the  features 
possessed  in  common  by  totally  different  zoological  families, 
and  facetiously  added,  '  It  is  tiresome  how  a  single  species 
will  come  and  interfere  with  our  nice  definitions  in  classifi- 
cation.' ^  I  will  devote  a  chapter  to  the  confusion  arising 
from  some  such  mixed  features. 

In  the  classification  of  the  Ophidia  these  tiresome  com- 
plications present  themselves  more,  perhaps,  than  \\\  any 
other  creatures.  We  have  seen  how  snakes  of  entirely 
opposite  families  may  possess  one  single  feature  in  common 
and  differ  in  other  generic  respects  ;  as,  for  instance,  in  the 
moveable  but  innocuous  fang  of  the   Xenodons ;    in    those 

^  Davis  Lecture^  July  28th,  1881.  Since  the  above  was  written,  Professor 
Flower  on  'Armadillos,'  at  the  opening  lecture  of  the  'Davis  Series,' June  8th, 
1882,  further  corroborated  the  difficulties  presented  in  these  mixed  characters, 
which  have  caused  zoologists  to  place  the  armadillo  among  the  Edentata^  ant- 
eaters,  sloths,  etc.,  notwithstanding  it  is  permanently  supplied  with  teeth, 


414  SNAKES. 

*  pits '  or  depressions  in  the  face ;  the  viperine  form  of  head  ; 
the  position  and  number  of  head-shields ;  the  sub-caudal 
plates,  and  so  on  ;  and  in  such  resemblances  I  am  strongly 
inclined  to  suspect  that  there  are  other  interfering  causes 
than  a  common  ancestry,  though  this,  no  doubt,  has  much 
to  do  with  it. 

*  "What  is  to  prevent  our  having  one  fixed  name,  and 
keeping  to  it  ? '  exclaim  the  sorely-puzzled  amateur  natur- 
alists. And  well  they  may,  on  seeing  in  some  works  on 
ophiology  a  list  of  synonyms  sometimes  filling  several 

By  way  of  illustration  let  us  take  the  little  spine-toothed 
snake  described  among  the  egg-eaters  in  chap.  iii.  This 
snake  was  known  to  be  edeiitulus  by  Linnaeus,  who  never- 
theless gave  it  the  generic  name  of  Coluber^  because  it  has 
two  rows  of  sub-caudal  plates ;  and  the  specific  scaber, 
because  it  has  roughly-carinated  scales — both  names  equally 
applicable  to  a  score  of  other  snakes,  and  not  at  all  de- 
scribing its  unique  dentition.  This  latter  was  first  made  a 
distinguishing  feature  by  Jourdan,  1833,  who  assigned  it  the 
generic  name  of  Rachiodofi,  spine-toothed.  Lacepede  called 
it  simply  La  rude  ;  Wagler,  Dasypeltis,  thick  or  rough-scaled, 
the  integument  rather  than  the  dentition  still  receiving  prior 
attention  by  the  majority  of  observers. 

Dr.  Andrew  Smith  in  1829  more  closely  watched  its 
habits,  and  considered  that  its  peculiar  dentition  was  suffi- 
cient to  separate  it  from  the  Oligodon  (few-toothed)  family, 
under  the  new  generic  name  of  Anodon,  with  the  specific 
typiis  to  mark  it  as  a  distinct  type.  Afterwards  he  found 
that  the  word  Anodon  had  been  already  adopted  by  natural- 


ists  for  a  shell-fish,  and  he  contented  himself  therefore  with 
Wagler's  name  Dasypeltis,  adding  inornatus  for  its  specific, 
otherwise  D.  scaber.  It  is  a  small,  slender  snake,  rarely 
exceeding  2\  feet  in  length,  and  of  an  inconspicuous  brown- 
ish colour.  That  it  is  an  extremely  slender  little  snake  is 
evident  from  the  portion  of  spine  copied  from  the  skeleton 
in  the  museum  of  R.  C.  S.,  and  given  in  the  chapter  on 
egg-eating  snakes.  Jourdan's  name  RacJiiodon^  though  the 
best  that  had  hitherto  been  assigned  to  the  spine-toothed 
tree  snake,  was  yet  rather  vague,  as  the  teeth  might  be 
anywhere  along  the  spinal  column  ;  and  Professor  Owen 
still  further  improved  upon  this  name  by  calling  it  Deirodon, 
neck-toothed  ;  for  though,  as  already  stated,  a  snake  has 
no  true  '  neck,'  the  word  Deirodon  designates  the  posi- 
tion of  those  gular  teeth  ;  and  for  convenience,  everybody 
speaks  of  a  snake's  '  neck '  in  allusion  to  the  part  imme- 
diately behind  the  head.  So  the  little  egg-eating  tree  snake 
is  equally  well  entitled  to  the  generic  names  of  Oligodon, 
few  teeth  ;  Rachiodon,  spine  teeth  ;  AnodoJt,  toothless  (as  far 
as  true  teeth  are  concerned)  ;  and  Deirodoft,  neck-toothed. 
In  habits  it  differs  entirely  from  the  Oligodontidcs  family, 
which  are  ground  snakes.  The  Deirodons  are  frequently 
found  concealed  under  the  loose  bark  of  dead  trees  ;  and  Dr. 
A.  Smith  observed  three  species  all  having  a  like  organiza- 
tion, which  induced  him  to  conclude  that  all  feed  alike  on 
birds'  eggs. 

As  very  few  snakes  have  such  an  exceptionally  dis- 
tinguishing organization  as  the  Deirodon,  few  are  so  happy 
as  to  escape  with  only  half  a  score  of  titles.  Many  species 
that  have  been  longer  known  have  had  their  names  similarly 


improved  upon  by  fifty  naturalists,  and  are  still  undergoing 
renomination  as  new  observers  discover  closer  alliances  with 
one  or  another  family.  This  is  particularly  the  case  in 
America,  where  a  nomenclature  entirely  differing  from  our 
own  is  often  adopted.  It  will  probably  be  the  same  in 
Australia  as  the  science  of  ophiology  advances  and  as 
native  naturalists  increase.  Says  Krefft,  in  allusion  to  these 
commingling  features  and  many  synonyms  :  '  It  is  difficult 
for  even  the  scholar  to  master  the  vexatious  question  of 
snake  classification.'  Add  to  the  scientific  names  an  equal 
number  of  vernacular  ones,  and  we  encounter  a  list  sufficient 
to  dismay  the  merely  lukewarm  student  at  the  very  outset. 

Let  me  here  suggest  the  utility  of  first  getting  at  the 
viearwig  of  scientific  terms  as  an  immense  assistance  towards 
fixing  them  in  the  memory.  In  the  construction  of  generic 
and  specific  names  some  peculiarity  is,  or  should  be,  de- 
scribed. This  I  have  endeavoured  to  keep  before  the  reader 
throughout  this  volume  ;  and  by  first  looking  at  the  meaning 
of  the  word,  it  is  at  once  simplified,  while  that  peculiar 
feature  for  which  it  is  named  is  also  grasped.  Occasionally 
a  name  baffles  us,  it  is  true,  and  one  fails  to  see  cause  or 
reason  in  it ;  but  this  is  an  exception.  Other  names  without 
apparent  reason  are  from  persons,  as,  for  instance,  when  a 
Mr.  Smith'  thinks  to  immortalize  himself  by  calling  a  snake 
Coluber  sinithii.  Probably  the  next  observer  would  find 
this  too  general  to  be  of  much  use,  and  discover  some 
peculiarity  more  worthy  of  a  specific. 

Not  long  ago,  when  Lacerda  was  experimenting  with 
our  distinguished  ophidian,  the  '  Curucucu '  {BotJirops  or 
Lachesis   rhoviheatci),  it    was    variously   introduced    to    the 


public  through  the  daily  press,  as  the  Bothraps  rhambeata, 
the  HacJiesis  rhainbeata^  and  the  LacJiesis  rJiainbeata.  It 
is  doubtful  whether  many  of  the  'general  public'  imagined 
these  three  names  to  represent  the  same  snake,  or  whether 
— except  possibly  from  the  last  generic  one — they  could 
form  any  idea  of  the  reptile  therefrom.  Of  the  many 
papers  that  fell  under  one's  notice,  Land  and  Water  alone 
on  this  occasion  spelt  the  words  correctly.  As  yet  there  is 
no  journal  devoted  to  the  Reptilia,  and  the  study  is  evi- 
dently not  attractive.  Nor  do  we  expect  all  naturalists  to 
be  ophiologists  ;  but  those  of  the  editors  who  were  zoologists 
might  have  hazarded  a  guess  and  made  sense  of  the  generic 
Lachesis^  seeing  that  a  deadly,  fateful  serpent  was  intended. 
Some  of  the  scientific  'weeklies'  having  started  the  wrong 
names,  unscientific  'dailies'  deferentially  transcribed  them. 
The  errors  were  chiefly  traceable  to  caligraphy,  and  are 
mentioned  here  to  exemplify -the  advantage  of  seeking  a 
meaning  in  scientific  appellations,  the  meanings  of  some 
names  being  so  obvious  that  in  spite  of  a  wrong  letter  you 
may  frequently  decide  upon  them. 

This  fateful  Lachcsis  of  South  America  has  been  as 
perplexingly  described  by  unscientific  travellers  as  the 
Jararaca,  and  as  hard  to  identify.  It  has  been  a  stumbling- 
block  and  a  snare  ever  since  the  time  of  Waterton,  who 
thus  wrote  of  it :  ^ — '  Unrivalled  in  the  display  of  every 
lovely  colour  of  the  rainbow,  and  unmatched  in  the  effects 
of  his  deadly  poison,  the  counacoiicJii  glides  undaunted  on, 
sole  monarch  of  these  forests.  He  sometimes  grows  to  the 
length   of  fourteen   feet.     He  is   commonly  known  by  the 

1    Wanderings  in  South  America,  by  Charles  Waterton.     London,  1S25. 

2  D 

41 8  ,  SNAKES. 

name  of  Bushmaster.  Man  and  beast  fly  before  him,'  etc. 
Waterton  'wandered'  between  the  years  1 8 12-1824,  making 
several  journeys  to  South  America,  primarily  with  the  view 
to  ascertain  the  composition  and  effects  of  the  Wourali 
poison,  and  on  this  subject  his  information  was  of  value. 
But  his  descriptions  of  serpents  partook  of  the  prejudices 
of  that  date,  and  were  more  picturesque  than  zoological. 
What  he  saw  and  wrote  of  possessed  the  charm  of  novelty 
in  those  days,  and  Sir  Joseph  Banks  addressed  a  letter  to 
him  expressing  'abundant  thanks  for  the  very  instructive 
lesson  }-ou  have  favoured  us  with,  which  far  excels  in  real 
utility  anything  I  have  yet  seen.' 

Endorsed  by  such  an  authority,  what  wonder  that 
fourteen  feet  of  radiantly  splendid  *  Bushmaster '  should 
figure  in  the  encyclopedias  of  the  day,  and  be  copied  by 
bookmakers  and  magazine  contributors  for  years  and  years 
— even  to  the  recent  date  of  1874  I  Hartwig,  1873,^  gives 
Waterton's  '  rainbow  hues  '  nearly  word  for  word,  with  the 
addition  of  one  of  the  scientific  names,  LacJiesis  rJionibcata. 
Kingston,  1874,^  aided  by  his  imagination,  improves  on 
Waterton.  The  Curucucu,  or  Couanacouchi,  '  sometimes  four- 
teen feet,  is  the  largest  known  poisonous  snake.  It  is 
remarkable  for  the  glowing  radiance  of  its  fearful  beauty, 
displaying  all  the  prismatic  colours.  It  mounts  trees  with 
the  greatest  ease,'  etc.  (It  lies  half  concealed  2inder  the 
trees  among  dead  leaves.)  Another  writer  of  Travels 
round  the  World  (meaning  the  British  Museum  Read- 
ing-room)    contents     himself    with     simply     a     'ralnbow- 

^  The  Tropical  World.     London,  1873. 
^  The  Wesiej-n  World,     London,  1874. 


coloured '    Bushmaster ;    so    now    in    imagination    we    add 
indigo,   blue,    green,   etc.,  to    the    'fearful   beauty.'      Mean- 
while other  writers  on  Brazil  introduce  it  as  the  Surucuru, 
Sorococo,     Couroucoucou,     Souroucoucou,    Surukuku,    and 
similar  names,  varied  only  by  a  transposition  of  letters  and  the 
addition  of  accents.     Tschudi  mentions  it  under  its  scientific 
name,  LacJiesis  rhoniheata,  the  '  Flammon'  in  Peru.'     Sulivan,^ 
who,  like  Waterton,  rambled  in  South  America,  tells  us  'the 
Couni   Couchi   or   Bushmaster   is  the  most  dreaded   of  all 
the    South  America  serpents ;    and,  as   his    name    implies, 
he  roams  absolute  master  of  the  forest.     They  do  not  fly 
from    man,  but  will   even   pursue   and    attack   him.     They 
are  fat,  clumsy-looking  animals,  about  four'  (not  fourteen) 
'  feet  long,  and  nearly  as  thick  as  a  man's  arm.     They  strike 
with  immense  force.'     A  man  had  been  bitten  in  the  thigh 
and    died,   and   'the  wound  was  as   if  two   four-inch   nails 
had  been   driven   into  the  flesh.      So   long  are   the   fangs, 
and   so   deep  the  wounds,  that  there  is  no  hope   of  being 
cured.'     P.  H.  Gosse  quotes  Sulivan  regarding  the  enormous 
fangs,  both  of  these  latter  writers  judiciously  omitting  the 
'  rainbow '  colouring. 

Most  snakes,  even  the  dingiest,  occasionally  display  an 
iridescence  which  is  certainly  beautiful  ;  and  Waterton 
may  have  seen  his  CounicouchI  when  the  sun  lighted  up 
the  recently-renewed  epidermis  and  showed  him  off  in 
unusual  brilliance  ;  only,  unfortunately,  the  copyists  have 
imagined  the  greens  and  crimsons  and  blues  of  the  rainbow, 
and  rendered  it  a  tedious  business  to  poor  patient  plodders 

^  Travels  in  Peru.     London,  1847. 

^  Rambles  and  Scrambles  in  Esseqtiibo.     London,  1 85 2. 

420  SNAKES. 

to  arrive  at  the  truth.  In  the  Encyclopcedia  Metropolitana, 
1845,  we  find  another  clue  to  identification.  'TrigoiiocepJialus 
inuttis,  a  native  of  the  Brazils  and  Guiana,  and  from  six  to 
seven  feet  long,  is  known  to  the  Brazilians  as  Sicrnkuku, 
and  is  probably  the  Boschmeester  of  the  Dutch  and  the 
Ccenicoussi  of  the  native  inhabitants.' 

Many  writers  of  travels  give  the  vernacular  names  only, 
while  the  more  scientific  who  do  give  generic  and  specific 
names,  may  each  give  a  different  one  and  perhaps  omit  the 
vernaculars  ;  and  in  none  of  the  authorities  does  one  discover 
the  name  'Bushmaster'  at  all;  while  as  to  colour  and  the 
true  size  we  can  be  sure  of  nothing. 

Presenting  these  complications  to  Dr.  Stradling,  whose 
kindly  proffered  co-operation  I  had  gladly  accepted,  he 
wrote  :  *  The  vulgar  names  are  often  local  in  a  limited  area, 
so  that  the  same  snake  may  be  known  by  half-a-dozen 
different  synonyms  in  as  many  different  provinces — not  only 
that,  but  these  names  are  often  applied  to  other  snakes  ; 
and  thus,  while  some  species  are  blended  together,  many 
imaginary  ones  are  created.' 

This  in  part  explains  the  varieties  of  spelling  seen  above  ; 
the  two  names  coiianacoiicJii  and  ciiriicooai  being  applied  to 
one  snake  by  different  tribes  of  the  native  races  extending 
over  a  rather  wide  area. 

Further  confirmation  of  these  indiscriminate  terms  we  find 
in  three  other  writers,  viz. : — First,  Dr.  Dalton  :i  '  The  boa 
constrictor  is  known  as  "  Bushmaster "  by  the  colonists. 
"  Camoudi  "  is  a  name  indiscriminately  applied  to  all  large 
snakes.     There  is  the  land  Camoudi,  and  the  water  Camoudi, 

1  History  of  British  Giciana^  vol.  ii.  p.  370.     By  G.  Dalton,  M.D.     Lend.  1855. 


while  the  Kunikusi  or  Courracouchi  of  the  Indians  Is  Crotaliis 
viutus,  which  is  termed  "  Bushmaster "  in  the  forests.' 
Secondly,  H.  W.  Bates  ^  says  :  '  The  natives  called  Trigono- 
cepJiahis  atrox  the  Jararaca.'  Thirdly,  Dr.  Otho  Wucherer- 
affirms  that  a  'venomous  tree  snake  {CraspcdocepJuiliLS  hilinc- 
atus)  Is  called  Siiriicitcii  patyoba,  from  the  palm  on  which  it 
is  found,  and  another  tree  snake  is  Silvil  Uricana,  from 
another  palm  in  which  It  resides  ;  while  tJie  Surucucu 
{Lachesis  iimtus)  lives  In  holes  in  the  ground.  It  Is  about  ten 
feet  long.'  This  latter  is  called  Stirii.  bico  di  jacca^  from  the 
resemblance  of  Its  strongly-keeled  scales  to  the  prominences 
on  the  'jack  fruit  ;'  Xenodon  rJiabdocepJialus  is  also  suruaiai, 
while  the  true  'Jararaca '  Is  CraspedocepJialus  atrox. 

Here  are  contradictory  Ciinicucus  and  Jararacas  in  plenty, 
all  Impressing  upon  us  the  Importance  of  comparing  evidence 
if  we  wish  to  arrive  at  a  truth. 

'  Why  spend  so  much  time  about  a  mere  name  ? '  Well, 
as  In  the  solution  of  a  problem,  you  desire  to  'get  It  right.' 
Besides,  you  ask,  '  Why  so  many  names  to  one  snake } ' 
and  in  sifting  out  this  C7irucncu  and  the  Jararaca,  we 
discover  reasons  for  the  many  synonyms. 

A.  R.  Wallace  once  more  presents  a  clue:^  'At  Sao  Gabriel 
I  saw  on  the  rocks  asleep  one  of  the  most  deadly  serpents 
in  South  America,  the  "  Surucurii  "  {Lachesis  inutus).  It  is 
very  handsomely  marked  with  rich  amber  brown,  and 
armed  with  terrific  poison  fangs,  two  on  each  side.'  Here 
we    are  enabled   to  associate   a  scientific   and  a  vernacular 

i  The  Naturalist  on  the  Amazons,  by  II.  W.  Bates.     Lond.  1873. 
•  Proceedings  of  the  Zoological  Society,  Jan.  and  Nov.  1 86 1. 
'  Travels  in  the  Amazon.     Lond.  i855- 

42  2  S^\4A'£S. 

name  with  a  *  handsome,'  though  not  a  '  rainbow-coloured ' 
serpent.  Sir  J.  Fayrer  describes  the  OpJiiopJiagus  as  the 
largest  known  venomous  serpent  'except  the  Bushmaster, 
which  is  said  to  attain  fourteen  feet.' 

By  this  time,  in  addition  to  the  ever-varying  vernaculars, 
we  learn  of  Waterton's  'Bushmaster'  as  LacJiesis  iniitus ; 
L.  rJwuiheatus  ;  Crotalus  mutiis  ;   Tj'igojwcepJiahis  viutus. 

It  will  be  observed  that  the  word  TrigonocepJialus  is  used 
as  a  generic  name  by  some  naturalists,  and  as  a  specific 
b)^  others  ;  and  it  may  with  reason  be  applied  to  most 
of  the  American  thanatophidia  which  are  not  elapidcc.  It 
therefore,  at  least,  enables  us  to  ascertain  that  the  snake 
of  doubtful  identity  has  this  viperine  characteristic  of  the 
angular  head  ;  and  as  there  is  only  one  very  small  true 
viper  at  present  known  in  the  New  World,  we  may  further 
decide  that  not  being  an  Elaps,  our  puzzler  is  a  BotJirops  with 
the  doubles  Jiarines,  and  therefore  equally  meriting  cither 
of  the  descriptives  atropos,  atrox,fiu'ia,  megeui-a,  clotJio,  cop/iias, 
and  other  such  fearful  appellatives  freely  used  to  designate 
the  deadly  qualities  of  the  worst  class  of  serpents.  In  reply 
to  a  communication  of  mine  to  Land  and  ]Vaier,  of  2d 
October  iSSo,  Dr.  Stradlinc^^  entered  more  fullv  into  this 
question  of  vernaculars,  and  what  he  says  of  Brazil  we  find 
to  be  the  case  evervwhere  : — 

*  Whatever  meaning  the  colloquial  titles  have  is  generally  grounded  on  some 
popular  error.' 

This  we  saw  in  the  case  of  Xenodon  and  Heterodon,  both 
called  all  sorts  of  bad  names  on  account  of  their  supposed 

i  Thanatophidia^  p.  S. 

OPHIDIAN  NO  ME  XC LA  TURE,  E  TC.  42  3 

'  In  Brazil,  Jeboia  and  Cas-cavel  are  the  universal  names  for  the  boa  and  rattle- 
snake ;  every  snake  with  red  in  its  markings  is  a  coral  snake  ("corral,"  from  the 
vSpanish  word  for  a  ring),  every  one  found  in  or  near  the  water  would  be  a 
Cobra  de  agtta,  and  every  other  is  a  Jarraracca  or  a  Curucucu. 

'  I  believe  every  country  has  a  pet  bugbear  among  serpents.  '*  Fer-de-lance  " 
is  the  cry  in  St.  Lucia  when  a  snake  rustles  away  in  the  bush  or  inflicts  a  bite 
unseen,  "Bushmaster"  in  Demerara,  "Toboba"  in  Nicaragua,  "Vaia"  in  Mexico, 
•'  Vivera  de  la  cruz  "  in  the  River  Plate.  Over  and  over  again  have  I  had  snakes 
of  widely  different  species  sent  to  me,  each  guaranteed  to  be  a  genuine  Jarraracca, 
until  I  began  to  doubt  whether  the  Jarraracca  had  any  existence  at  alL  I  believe 
that  the  one  I  sent  to  the  Zoological  Gardens  the  other  day  is  the  real  thing — 
Craspedocephahis  Brasiliensis—2X  last'  (the  Xenodon  after  all!)  'and  I  think  I 
have  sifted  the  Curucucu  down  by  elimination  till  I  can  fix  the  term  on  Trigone- 
cephahts  atrox. 

•  #•••••••* 

*  I  fear  we  shall  never  get  a  decent  classification  till  some  competent  obser\-er 
studies  them  on  their  native  soil ;  the  excellence  of  the  books  on  Indian  reptiles 
is  doubtless  due  to  this.  We  want  a  man  in  authority  to  settle  the  very  vernacular 
for  us — one  who  can  say,  "This  and  no  other  shall  be  the  Jarraracca,  this  the 
Bushmaster,"  etc.,  for  it  is  undoubtedly  a  great  advantage  to  have  a  well-defined 
native  or  local  synonym.  The  marvel  is  that  the  present  classification  should  be 
so  good  as  it  is.  Look  at  the  difficulties.  When  people  see  a  snake  they  rush 
at  it,  smash  it  with  sticks  or  stones,  pick  up  what  is  left  of  it  and  put  it  in  a 
bottle  of  canha,  cachasse,  rum,  or  other  coarse  spirit,  label  it  with  a  wrong 
name,  and'  send  it  home.  And  these  are  the  materials  an  ophiologist  has  to 
build  on.'  ^ 

Krefift,  speaking  of  the  confusion  of  vernaculars  in  Australia, 
also  says  :  '  To  make  a  work  on  ophiology  useful  to  all,  co-opera- 
tion is  7iecessary ;  and  as  a  good,  sound  English  name  is  pre- 
fixed to  every  species,  it  is  to  be  hoped  that  such  name  will, 
if  possible,  be  retained.'  He  is  referring  more  particularly  to 
the  '  Diamond  snake,'  which  on  the  mainland  is  the  harmless 
PytJion  mohirus,  and  in  Tasmania  the  venomous  Hoplocephaliis 
siiperbus,  with  very  broad  scales.  Therefore  he  '  hopes  that 
Tasmanian  friends  will  accept  the  designation  "  Broad-scaled 
snake"  in  lieu  of  "Diamond"  for  their  poisonous  species.' 
In  the  accounts  sent  to  England,  the  indiscriminate  use  of 

'  Land  and  Water,  October  16,  1S80. 

4M  ^  SNAKES. 

such  prefixes  as  the  black  snake,  the  hroiun  snake,  causes 
infinite  perplexity,  and  not  unfrequently  furnishes  argumen- 
tative articles  to  the  journals.  'Carpet'  snake  is  another 
vernacular  applied  to  a  harmless  species  in  Australia,  and  to 
the  extremely  venomous  little  EcJiis  of  India.  Then  every 
country  has  its  'Deaf  adder'  which  is  neither  an  'adder'  nor 
'  deaf.'  And  the  '  moccasin  '  of  the  United  States  is  a  still 
existing  stumbling-block. 

Another  great  confusion  in  classification  has  been  in  con- 
sequence of  some  of  the  earlier  naturalists  representing  young 
snakes,  or  those  of  varying  colours,  as  distinct  species.  It  is 
very  common  for  a  young  snake  to  differ  in  colour  from  the 
parent,  and  also  common  for  those  of  the  same  brood  to 
differ  from  each  other.  Of  Coluber  canis  Dr.  A.  Smith  says 
scarcely  any  two  are  marked  and  coloured  alike.  In  a  brood 
of  the  broad-scaled  Tasmanian  snake,  H.  superbiis,  there  were 
upwards  of  thirty  young  ones,  some  of  which  Krefift  describes 
as  banded,  and  of  a  light  colour,  the  rest  being  black.  Our 
English  slow-worm  varies  from  dead  black  to  nearly  white,  or 
flesh  colour,  one  of  the  latter  being  an  inmate  of  the  Gardens 
at  the  time  of  writing,  March  1882.  The  English  viper  also 
varies  in  colour,  and  we  have  heard  of  a  perfectly  yellow 
ring  snake. 

In  England  ive  have  so  few  snakes,  viz.  the  ring  snake, 
the  coronella,  and  one  viper,  and  these  three  so  distinct, 
that  we  are  not  likely  to  be  perplexed  with  many  varieties  ; 
but  in  tropical  or  semi-tropical  regions,  where  closely-allied 
species  abound,  it  may  be  suspected  that  hybrids  not 
unfrequently  create  confusion  as  well  as  a  multiplication  of 
supposed    'species'    not    likely    to    cease.      In    our    small 


London  collection,  hybrids  have  been  produced  at  least 
twice  within  a  few  years  ;  and  we  fear  that  the  habit  of 
hibernatincr  in  mixed  multitudes  leads  to  some  immorality 
among  the  Ophidia.  It  is  like  the  overcrowded  dwellings 
of  the  poor,  and  the  '  free-lovers '  of  America  ;  and  perhaps 
to  ophidian  unions  between  congeners  occasionally  may 
be  traced  not  a  few  of  the  varieties  which  so  curiously 
and  closely  blend  different  species  and  are  a  plague  to 
classifiers.     This  is  mere  speculation. 

The  Indian  vernaculars  are  as  abundant  and  perplexing 
as  those  of  Brazil.  Of  the  cobras.  Sir  J.  Fayrer  says  there 
are  many  varieties  which  the  natives  consider  different 
species.  '  The  snake  charmers  are  poor  naturalists,  and 
disseminate  many  false  notions  as  well  as  dangerous  ones 
about  the  cobras.'  In  the  ThanatopJiidia  nine  or  ten  varieties 
are  figured,  all  of  the  one  single  species  {Naja  tripudians), 
thouGrh  all  bear  different  vernaculars.  The  two  chief  distinc- 
tions  in  the  markings  are  the  spots  on  the  back  of  the  '  neck,' 
which,  when  the  hood  is  distended,  are  easily  distinguished. 
One  with  a  single  ocellus  is  the  Keautiah,  known  as  '  Kala 
samp,'  '  Nag  samp,'  etc.,  being  chiefly  of  the  field  or  jungle. 
The  other  with  the  double  ocellus  is  the  'spectacled  cobra,' 
and  essentially  of  the  town.  This  is  the  '  Gokurrah '  of  the 
natives,  and  the  favourite  of  the  snake  charmers.  Being 
common  all  over  a  country  which  boasts  of  thirty-six  written 
languages,  the  reader  can  imagine  the  number  of  vernaculars 
bestowed  upon  the  Cobra  capdla. 

The  ophiopJiagiis  is  almost  equally  favoured,  as  this  snake 
also  varies  in  colour,  particularly  in  the  young  ones,  which 
Fayrer   affirms    might   easily   be    mistaken    for   a    different 

426  SNAKES. 

species.  Probably  wherever  snakes  abound,  the  vernaculars 
are  correspondingly  numerous. 

'  And  after  all  which  is  the  Curucucu,  and  which  is  the 
Jararaca  ?'  Being  the  proud  possessor  of  both,  I  may  describe 
them  from  nature  ;  but  conflicting  opinions  as  to  their  identity 
still  exist,  because  there  are  features  in  common  among 
congeneric  species,  and  what  one  author  may  decide  is  the 
Curucucu  another  w^ill  call  the  Jararaca.  Dumeril,  Gray, 
Gunther,  and  other  modern  ophiologists  have,  however,  so 
far  simplified  difficulties,  as  to  recognise  only  one  of  each  in 
our  zoological  collections,  notwithstanding  the  liberal  use  of 
both  terms  in  Brazil. 

Our  Cumcucu,  then,  Lacliesis  or  Crotalus  inutus,  has  the  flat, 
viperine  head,  covered  with  fine  scales.  The  only  plates 
are  the  upper  and  lower  labials,  one  over  the  eye,  and  a  pair 
of  rather  large  ones  under  the  chin.  The  'pit'  is  very 
distinct,  showing  it  to  be  a  BotJwops  and  one  of  the 
Crotalidce.  The  body  colour  is  of  a  pale  maize,  approaching 
umber  towards  the  back,  and  lighter  on  the  belly,  with  a 
chain  of  rich  chocolate-brown,  jagged,  rhomboid  spots,  edged 
with  darker  tints,  along  the  back.  It  is  undeniably  hand- 
some, and  in  life  no  doubt  was  iridescent,  but  alas  for  the 
*  rainbow  splendours,'  they  have  vanished  !  In  length  it  is 
about  nine  feet,  and  in  girth  as  big  as  one's  arm  in  the  largest 
part.  Its  tail  tapers  suddenly.  One  sees  in  the  strongly- 
keeled  scales  the  '  prominences'  alluded  to  by  Dr.  Wucherer  ; 
and  as  the  fangs  are  represented  life-size  on  p.  360,  the 
reader  can  judge  for  himself  about  the  'four-inch  nails.' 
Mine  is  probably  a  nearly  full-grown  serpent,  therefore  an 
average-size  specimen,  and  much  the  same  as  the  one  brought 


to  the  Gardens  in  the  summer  of  1881,  which  Hngered  a 
pitiable  object  for  six  or  eight  months,  eating  nothing,  and 
gradually  wasting. 

Tht  Jararaca  is  a  slighter  snake,  and  in  colour  of  an  olive 
tint  with  darker  markings,  not  unlike  Xenodon's  jagged 
leaf  pattern  along  the  back.  Its  right  to  the  name  of 
C^'aspedocephalus  {o^aspedo,  derived  from  a  Greek  word 
signifying  an  edge  or  border)  is  recognised  by  a  peculiar 
ridge  round  its  flat,  angular,  and  almost  lance-shaped  head. 
It  is  also  a  Trigo7iocepJiahis  and  a  BotJirops.  My  specimen 
being  only  half-grown  is  about  three  feet  long,  and  the 
thickness  of  your  little  finger.  *  Is  there  not  great  confusion 
in  the  application  of  the  terms  craspedoccpJi.  and  trigono- 
ceph.f  wrote  Dr.  Stradling,  on  sending  me  these  much- 
prized  specimens.  Yes,  there  certainly  is  ;  but  by  this  time 
the  reader  sees  the  reason  for  this,  and  also  for  the  many 
appellatives  which  they  derive  from  the  Fates  and  the 
Furies.  Not  to  weary  the  reader  with  further  lists 
of  names,  I  will  refer  him  to  Gray's  Catalogue  of  tJie 
British  Mnseitm  Snakes,  p.  5,  for  tJie  accepted  Jararaca 
of  the  authorities,  and  to  Dumeril,  tome  vii.  pt  ii.  p.  1509, 
for  the  same  ;  both  authors  giving  the  numerous  synonyms, 
and  the  latter  the  reasons  for  many  of  them.  The  student 
will  there  see  how  Wagler  is  supposed  to  have  described 
young  snakes  as  different  species ;  and  if  further  in- 
vestigation be  invited,  a  good  deal  of  entertainment 
may  be  had  from  Wagler  himself  and  his  folio  volume,' 
Serpentum  Braziliensis,  with  its  wonderful  coloured  illus- 
trations.     Then   for  the   Cnrncucu,  the  Laches  is   viutus  of 

1  By  J.  B.  von  Spix,  Public  far  Jean  IVai^ler.     !Monarchu,  1826. 

42  8  /  SNAKES. 

modern  ophiologists,  see  p.  13  of  Gray,  and  p.  i486,  tome  vii. 
pt.  ii.  of  Dumerll  et  Bibron.  From  these  authors  we  may  go 
back  to  Marcgrave,  1648,  for  the  '  Cvrvcvcv  Brazilieiisibiis, 
fifteen  palms  long-,  truculent  and  much  to  be  feared.' 
Marcgrave's  book  is  embellished  with  marvellous  pictures 
which  are  not  likely  to  enlighten  us  much  ;  but  through  him 
we  are  enabled  to  Identify  some  "of  his  serpents  with  the 
vernaculars,  for,  like  the  Pilgrim  Purchas,  the  vernaculars 
were  all  he  had  to  guide  him. 

Authorities  recognise  six  or  seven  species  of  Craspedo- 
cepJialus^  presumably  all  having  the  easily  distinguish- 
able edge  like  a  thin  cord  round  their  heads,  and  which 
doubtless  were  the  'prominent  Veines '  described  by  Purchas 
in  the  Brazilian  species,  now  generally  recognised  as  '  tJie 
Jararaca.'  I  will  invite  my  readers  to  'co-operate'  and  call 
no  harmless  little  snakes  by  this  name,  which  originally 
implied  something  terrible. 

'And  what  is  the  outcome  of  all  this  etymological 
jumble  V 

'  Well,  we  at  least  learn  that  as  in  English  the  words 
snake,  adder,  serpent,  have  a  somewhat  general  signification, 
so  have  some  of  the  Brazilian  vernaculars.  But  I  cannot 
help  thinking  that  many  of  these  names  had  more  of  natural 
history  in  them  than  we  are  apt  to  suspect,  though  no  doubt 
the  original  meaning  has  become  much  corrupted  during 
three  hundred  years'  colonization.  The  native  races  knew 
quite  well  that  some  snakes  were  dangerous  and  some 
harmless,  which  is  more  than  can  be  said  for  the  present 
occupiers  of  South  America,  who  think  all  venomous  as  a 
matter  of  a  course. 


The  differences  in  spelling  the  same  word  may  guide  us 
in  the  pronunciation  of  it ;  as,  for  example,  the  c  sometimes 
as  k,  in  Camoudi,  or  Kamoodi,  and  as  s  in  Curucoocu  or 
Sooroocoocoo.  In  these  latter  words  we  also  find  the  ?/ 
identical  with  00,  as  in  the  Hindu  or  Hindoo  words. 
Again,  they  is  as  i  in  Jararaca  or  lararacca,  or  more  probably 
a  sound  with  which  we  are  unfamiliar,  as  the  word  is  some- 
times Shira7'aca.  The  frequent  transposition  of  syllables 
hints  at  a  meaning  which  may  be  worth  seeking  by  a 
philologist,  should  he  be  also  an  ophiophilist.  Some  local 
information  on  these  points  I  much  hope'd  to  obtain  ;  but 
alas !  {for  this  chapter)  the  trips  to  Brazil  of  my  excellent 
ally  came  to  an  end  !  Independently  of  which,  the  native 
dialects  could  only  be  studied  in  the  far  interior,  where,  here 
and  there,  some  tribes  may  still  be  found  In  their  pristine 
simplicity,  though  it  is  very  doubtful  whether  their  dialects 
to-day  are  those  from  which  the  first  European  settlers 
obtained  their  Ctiruciicus  and  Jararacas. 

The  repetition  of  syllables  in  these  strange  dialects  seems 
to  point  at  some  intention.  Can  those  frequently  occurring 
raras  and  ciiais  represent  degrees  ?  For  instance,  we  are 
told  that  the  Jarrara<;;/f?^  is  '  the  largest  of  the  Jarraracas.' 
And  we  are  quite  sure  that  the  0/r//rijuba,  *  which  killeth  by 
winding  certain  turnes  of  his  tayle,'  is  the  boa  constrictor  ; 
and  that  the  Cuntriiibu,  '  which  keepeth  ahvaies  in  the  water, 
is  the  anaconda,  these  syllables  evidently  representing  bulk 
or  something  formidable  :  as  we  have  them  abounding  in 
cnrucucn,  the  most  formidable  of  all  serpents.  Then  Idido 
might  imply  beauty  or  gay  colouring.  A  snake,  Ibiboco,  with 
red    and    black  rings,  '  the  fairest  but  of  foulest  venom,'  is 

430  SNAKES. 

undoubtedly  Elaps  Jcmiiiscatus ;  while  Ibiboboca,  ^  ainsi 
iioDime  par  sa  graudc  beaute\'  is  ^  Jiannlessc'  Peba  as  a 
termination  may  imply  danger ;  as  there  is  the  Jararac/^/^^?, 
*  most  venomous,'  and  a  '  very  venomous '  rattlesnake, 
Boicininin/^'^^?.  The  curious  repetition  of  in  in  Boycininga^ 
rattlesnake  (p.  272),  seems  to  hint  at  the  length  of  its  rattle  and 
the  degree  of  crepitation  it  produces,  especially  as  we  find  the 
substitution  of^  for  c  in  some  of  these  words,  and  the  soft^/ 
rapidly  repeated  is  not  unlike  the  true  sound. 

There  is  a  long  and  slender  tree  snake  *  that  eateth  eggs, 
and  goeth  faster  on  the  trees  than  any  man  can  runne  on  the 
ground,  with  a  motion  not  unlike  swimming.'  Its  correspon- 
dingly long  name  is  Ginaranpiaqumia  !  Vain  indeed  would 
be  any  speculation  as  to  what  that  may  mean.  Vain  also, 
and  I  fear  tedious,  may  all  this  guess-work  be  to  discover 
-meaning  and  poetry  in  what  may  probably  be  dead  languages. 
Who  shall  say  how  many  thousand  years  ago  these  singular 
repetitions  conveyed  to  the  savage  mind  (but  zvas  it  savage }) 
an  idea  of  the  creatures  around  them  } 




WE  come  now  to  treat  of  facts  no  less  interesting  than 
surprising  in  ophidian  biographies.  Already  we 
have  recounted  almost  marvellous  powers  possessed  by 
this  class  of  animals  —  functions  which  are  volitionary, 
such  as  the  management  of  their  trachea,  the  voluntary 
folding  back  or  unfolding  of  certain  teeth,  the  practical 
adaptation  of  their  ribs  and  coils  to  what  we  may 
almost  call  manual  work,  and  now,  most  astonishing  of 
all,  the  voluntary  deposition  or  retention  of  ova,  even  of 

*  Snakes  are  either  oviparous  or  viviparous,'  is  what  we 
are  accustomed  to  read,  followed  by  the  explanation  that 
the  former  are  those  which  lay  eggs,  and  the  latter  those 
which  produce  their  young  alive.  To  these  two  chief 
distinctions,  the  more  recent  one  of  ovoviviparous  has 
been  added,  to  describe  some  intermediate  cases  where  the 
Qgg  is  ruptured  in  parturition,  so  that  again  a  fully-formed 
young  one  is  born.     For  broad  distinctions  the  three  terms 


432  SNAKES. 

do  well  enough,  though  many  exceptions  exist.  The  grand 
distinction  of  'viper'  as  applied  to  those  snakes  which 
produce  live  young,  was  adopted  when  snakes  were  first 
observed  and  described  by  classic  writers. 

'  Vipers  alone  are  viviparous,'   wrote   Aristotle.      '  Some- 
times the  little  vipers  eat  through  their  mother  and  come 
forth.     The  viper  brings  forth  one  at  a  time  in  one  day,  but 
she  brings  forth  more  than  twenty  little  vipers.     Other  ser- 
pents  produce  their   eggs    externally,   and    these   eggs    are 
connected   with    each   other    like   the    necklaces    of  women. 
But  when  they  bring  forth,  they  deposit  their  eggs  in  the 
earth,   and  tJiere  incubate  tJieni.     These   eggs   they  disclose 
the  following  year.'     We  do  not  quote  the  above  as  all  fact, 
but  rather  to  show  how  very  much  there  has  been  to  Jinlearn 
since  Aristotle  was  accepted  as  an  authority.     The  shadow 
of  truth  and  the  mention  of  a  possible  fact  as  an  invariable 
rule  are  dangerous  mistakes,  for,  as  we  have  already  shown, 
where  a    snake  is    concerned,   one    can   rarely  feel   safe    in 
asserting   anything   as    positive.     It  is  not  impossible  that, 
owing  to  disease  or  accident,  some  gravid  viper  may  have 
been  so   wounded    as  to  enable   her   young   to  make  their 
debut  through  her  ruptured  side.     Such  an  occurrence  has 
been  seen  in  our  own  time.     Aristotle  or  his  authority  may 
even  have  witnessed  such  an  accident,  and  recorded  it  under 
the  supposition  that  it  was  normal.     In  whatever  way  the 
error  may  have  originated,  it  is  only  one  out  of  many  that 
are  propagated  even  to  the  present  day  by  the  uninformed. 

At  the  moment  of  writing,  we  read  in  one  of  our  first-class 
'  dailies,'  alluding  to  a  brood  of  young  vipers  lately  born 
at  the  Zoological   Gardens :   '  The  young  viper   comes  into 


the  world  in  the  shape  of  an  egg,  and  its  first  business  is 
to  push  through  the  filmy  membrane  which  envelops  it  in 
its  imprisoned  form.'  This  is  contrary  to  our  accepted  ideas, 
though  partially  true  in  this  instance.  The  word  viper  is 
generally  supposed  to  be  derived  from  the  Latin  vipera,  a 
contraction  of  vivipara,  to  produce  alive.  The  above  words 
therefore  are  inapplicable  as  a  rule. 

So  far  as  was  known  in  Aristotle's  time,  only  certain 
venomous  species  common  in  the  countries  with  which 
classic  writers  were  best  acquainted  did  produce  live  young, 
and  they  were  mostly  what  are  still  known  as  *  vipers,'  a  term 
restricted  to  these  and  explained  as  being  derived  from 
such  signification. 

Opportunities  of  study  and  of  observation  afforded  in 
menageries  and  zoological  gardens  at  the  present  day  have 
caused  the  term  viper  d,s  relating  to  gestation  to  be  discarded, 
or  many  non-venomous  snakes  must  be  included,  thus  over- 
throwing all  our  notions  of  vipers.  As  was  shown  in  the  pre- 
ceding chapters,  the  name  is  now  associated  with  dentition. 

German  and  French  ophiologists  affirm  that  the  three 
distinctions  of  oviparous,  viviparous,  and  ovoviviparous  are 
founded  on  no  other  ground  than  the  greater  or  less  deve- 
lopment of  the  foetus  at  the  time  of  deposition. 

The  nature  of  the  egg-covering  or  '  shell '  has  also  to  do 
with  this.  In  eggs  which  take  a  longer  time  to  mature  or 
to  '  hatch,'  the  external  covering  is  thicker  and  more  leathery; 
in  those  which  are  hatched  either  before  or  on  deposition, 
the  shell  is  thinner,  more  membranous.  Always,  however, 
there  is  a  calcareous  element  in  the  shell,  and  the  eggs  are 

generally,  but  7iot  invariably,  linked  together. 

2  E 

434  SNAKES. 

Heat  and  moisture  are  essential  to  the  hatching  of  eggs. 
When  at  liberty  the  snake  selects  some  spot  among  decaying 
leaves,  or  in  a  manure  heap  where  decomposition  produces 
sufficient  warmth.  In  the  tropics,  where  the  sun's  rays  alone 
suffice,  a  soft  moist  bed  is  more  easily  found,  and  here  it  is 
that  immense  broods  are  produced. 

The  period  of  gestation  can  scarcely  be  pronounced  upon 
with  certainty.  It  depends  not  only  on  the  size  of  the 
snake,  but  on  the  degree  of  warmth  that  can  be  enjoyed  as 
an  assistant  to  mature  the  eggs.  Schlegel  mentions  three 
or  four  months  from  copulation  to  the  laying  of  eggs  in  the 
species  indigenous  to  France.  But  as  other  circumstances 
combine  to  cause  variations  in  these  periods,  it  is  very 
unsafe  to  fix  upon  the  precise  time  of  gestation. 

Says  Rymer  Jones,  *  Reptiles  do  not  sit  {sic)  upon  their 
eggs,  hence  the  latter  have  only  a  membranous  envelope. 
In  many  of  the  reptiles  which  lay  eggs,  especially  the 
Colubri  (colubrine  snakes),  the  young  one  is  already  formed 
and  considerably  advanced  in  the  ^g^  at  the  moment  when 
the  mother  lays  it ;  and  it  is  the  same  with  those  species 
which  may  at  pleasure  be  rendered  viviparous  by  retarding 
their  laying.'^  The  latter  words  are  traced  to  Cuvier,  and 
prove  that  this  most  remarkable  power  has  long  been 

In  the  first  few  words  of  the  above,  Jones  spoke  of 
reptiles  generally  from  toads  to  turtles  ;  with  the  latter, 
soft  eggs  would  certainly  fare  badly  did  they  attempt  to 
incubate  them.  Still  the  term  *  reptiles '  is  misleading, 
because,   as  is   now  well  known,  some  snakes   do  incubate, 

■^  Ar'dcle  '  Reptilia '  in  Todd's  EncyclopiEdia  of  Anatomy,  vol.  iv.  pt.  i.  p.  264. 


and  some  lizards  are  suspected  of  doing  the  same.  Even 
our  common  ring  snake  has  been  found  coiled  upon  her 

Serpents  are  allied  to  birds  in  producing  young  from 
eggs,  but  in  reptiles  the  eggs  differ  from  those  of  birds  in 
undergoing  a  sort  of  incubation  from  the  very  first ;  so  that 
at  whatever  period  a  snake's  ^^^  is  examined,  whether  it 
has  been  laid  or  not,  the  embryo  will  be  found  more  or 
less  advanced.  Sometimes  in  an  t^^  just  deposited,  a 
perfectly  formed  foetus  will  be  found.  *  Serpents  are 
always  oviparous,'  says  Schlegel  ;  'and  it  is  a  mistake  to 
suppose  that  all  venomous  snakes  produce  live  young, 
and  all  non-venomous  kinds  lay  eggs.  Neither  has  the 
diversity  of  generation  any  relation  to  the  organization  of 
the  animal  itself  Coronella  Icevis  produces  living  young, 
but  other  coronellas  lay  eggs.  In  1862,  when  very  little 
was  known  of  the  Coronella  IcBvis,  Mr.  Frank  Buckland  had 
one  in  a  cage  in  London,  which  to  the  surprise  of  most 
persons  produced  live  young  ones.  This  may  have  ^been 
solely  owing  to  her  captivity  and  her  retention  of  eggs  till 
hatched.  Some  boas  lay  eggs,  others  are  viviparous.  In 
the  latter  case  the  young  are  enclosed  in  a  thin  membrane, 
which  they  tear  or  break  at  the  moment  of  birth.  In  those 
that  are  a  long  while  hatching,  the  tunic  is  of  a  thick, 
coriaceous  texture,  not  easily  ruptured.  Thus,  to  sum  up 
with  one  other  authority,  I>er  Hoeven  :  *  In  many  serpents 
and  lizards  the  development  begins  in  the  body  of  the 
parent  before  the  ^^^  is  laid,  and  in  some  the  membrane  of 
the  ^^^  is  broken  by  the  young  one  before  birth.* 

This  latter  condition    has   been    considered  viperinc,  but 

436  SNAKES. 

even    in    a    viper    the    young   have    been   produced    in    a 
t  ... 

membrane.       This  was  the  case  with    Vipera  nasicornis   at 

the    London  Zoological    Gardens,    on    Sunday,    November 

6th,  1 88 1,  that  gave  birth  to  forty-six  viperlings.      Some  of 

them  had   no  vestige  of  membrane  clinging   about    them  ; 

others  had,  but  burst  it  immediately  and  began   to  crawl ; 

while  yet  others  did  not  burst  their  '  shell '  at  all, — if  indeed 

so  filmy  and  thin  a  membrane  could   be  called  a  shell, — 

but  died  within  it.      When    the    membrane   burst,   it   was 

seen  to  collapse  and   shrivel  up   into  nothing,  as  children's 

air  balls  do  when  they  are  torn  ;  but  the  texture  of  these 

balls  is  strong  in  comparison  with  the  extreme  tenuity  of  the 

viperine  ^^^  tunic.      Yet  it  was  strong  enough  to  contain 

a  young  one,  as  in  the    case  of  those  unbroken.      There 

is   no   means   of  ascertaining  the   precise    length    of    time 

this  viper  had  been  in  captivity ;  but  as   her   young   ones 

had  all  such    fully-developed  fangs,  and   the   precocity   to 

strike  and  kill  a  mouse  as  soon  as  born,  this  was  probably 

another    case    of    postponed    deposition.      On    a    previous 

occasion,  September  1875,  a  family  of  young  vipers  born  at 

the  Ophidarium  were  '  some  quite  clean  and  otJiers  with  the 

remains  of  the  egg  covering  about  them!     The  quotation  from 

my  notebook  refers  to  the  Daboia  of  India,  '  Russell's  viper ' 

( Vipera  elegans).     Still  these  may  be  exceptional  and  possibly 

abnormal  cases,  but  are  examples  worth  noting,  and  another 

proof  of  the  many  exceptions  to  what  we  are  accustomed 

to  believe  invariable  rules. 

White,  in  his  History  of  Selborne,  mentions   the  capture 

of  a  viper  in  which  he  found   fifteen  young,  the   shortest 

being    seven    inches.       They    were     active,     spiteful,    and 


menacing-,  and  yet  'had  no  manner  of  fangs  that  we  could 
find,  even  with  the  help  of  our  glasses.' 

Mr.  Frank  Buckland  tells  of  a  man  who  cut  open  a 
-string  of  snake's  eggs,  and  the  young,  thus  prematurely 
introduced  into  the  world,  *  showed  fight.' 

Of  historical  ophidians  which  have  figured  in  many  pages, 
first  comes  chronologically  the  Paris  python,  that  in  1841 
laid  fifteen  eggs  and  incubated  them.  She  has  already 
been  alluded  to  in  chap,  iv.,  but  claims  further  mention 

A  python  in  the  Amsterdam  collection  next  hatched 
twenty-two  eggs. 

In  1862  a  python  at  the  London  Gardens  laid  above 
a  hundred  eggs, — '  more  than  a  bushel,'  according  to  the 
keeper, — and  settled  herself  to  hatch  them.  Much  interest 
attaches  itself  to  this  lady's  history  ;  but  first  to  complete 
our  list  chronologically,  the  following  harmless  species  in  the 
London  collection  have  within  the  last  ten  years  produced 
live  young,  being  examples  of  that  'diversity  of  generation' 
of  which  Schlegel  speaks. 

August  1872,  the  'seven-banded  snake'  {Trop.  leberis)  had 
five  young  and  some  eggs  at  the  same  time. 

June  1873,  a  Coluber  natrix  had  seven  young  ones.  (I 
cannot  affirm  positively  that  these  were  born  alive  ;  I  think 
not,  from  an  especial  entry  in  my  notebook  concerning  them  ; 
but  the  records  of  the  Zoological  Society  in  which  I  have 
sought  for  confirmation  do  not  announce  them  as  '  hatched.') 

August  1873,  a  yellow  Jamaica  boa  {Chilobothrus  inornatiis) 
gave  birth  to  fourteen  young  ones,  ten  of  which  survived. 
They  crawled  up  to  the  top  of  their  cage  as  soon  as  they 

438  SNAKES. 

saw  daylight,  and  showed  signs  of  fight.  One  little  aggressor 
struck  at  me  when  I  held  it,  and  tried  to  bite  me  through 
my  glove, — an  impertinence  which  was  permitted  in  order 
to  test  its  powers.  It  constricted  my  fingers  as  tightly  as 
if  a  strong  cord  were  wound  round  them,  and  when  not 
thus  occupied  it  wriggled  and  twisted  itself  about  in  such 
energetic  contortions  that  I  could  scarcely  hold  it.  The 
activity  and  daring  of  the  whole  fry  proved  their  perfect 
development.  On  another  occasion  the  same  species  pro- 
duced eight,  and  on  a  third  occasion  thirty-three  young 
ones,  but  of  these  dates  I  am  not  quite  sure.  In  some 
cases  a  few  eggs  were  produced  at  the  same  time,  but 
they  were  hard  and  bad  and  of  the  consistency  of 
soap.  The  manners  and  actions  of  the  three  equally 
well-developed  families  were  similar.  They  were  always 
on  the  defensive,  and  able  to  fight  their  own  battles.  When 
the  keeper  put  his  hand  into  the  cage,  they  seized  upon  it 
and  held  on  with  their  teeth  so  tightly  that  on  raising  it 
they  hung  wriggling  and  undulating  like  a  living,  waving 

Another  boa  from  Panama,  on  30th  June  1877,  had 
twenty  young,  which  displayed  ability  to  take  care  of 
themselves  forthwith  by  leaving  the  marks  of  their  teeth 
on  Holland's  fingers.  These  twenty  were  all  produced 
during  the  night,  or  before  the  arrival  of  the  keeper  the 
next  morning,  and  were  lively  and  spiteful,  biting  any  one 
who  attempted  to  touch  them,  and  sharply  enough  to  draw 
blood.  Mr.  E.  W.  Searle,  who  described  them  in  Lmid  and 
Water  at  the  time,  July  1877,  said:  'This  is  probably  the 
first  recorded  instance  of  the  breedinsf  of  boa  constrictors 


in  captivity.'  He  seemed  also  to  infer  that  this  proved 
the  boa  to  be  viviparous  instead  of  oviparous,  as  '  had 
been  always  understood.'  Having  already  known  of  cases 
of  abnormal,  and  also  of  postponed  production  of  eggs 
or  of  young,  I  ventured  at  the  time  to  cite  such  cases 
in  Land  and  Water,  July  7,  1877,  adding:  *  We  must  not 
too  hastily  conclude  that  because  one  boa  constrictor 
produced  a  family  of  lively  young  ones,  this  species  is 
invariably  viviparous.'  Also  in  the  Field,  July  14,  1877,  I 
suggested  that  *  the  circumstance  might  be  received  rather 
as  a  further  example  of  snakes  breeding  under  abnormal 
conditions,'  —  opinions  further  confirmed  by  subsequent 

The  little  fry  were  supplied  with  young  mice,  which  they 
constricted  as  if  they  had  served  an  apprenticeship  ;  but 
the  mother  left  them  entirely  to  themselves,  and  betrayed 
no  other  unusual  feelings  than  to  hiss  when  disturbed. 
When  they  were  seven  weeks  old,  they  in  one  night  ate 
twenty- four  mice  and  a  few  young  rats  between  them. 
They  all  cast  their  first  coat  before  they  were  a  week  old. 
The  mother  had  been  in  the  Gardens  about  eight  years. 
All  but  one  of  this  fine  family  were  alive  in  the  following 
November,  and  two  are  still  living  at  the  time  of  going  to 
press,  viz.  'Totsey'  (illus.  p.  201)  and  one  brother. 

The  dates  of  these  few  following  cases  are  a  little 
uncertain,  also  exactly  how  many  survived  of  those  that 
were  born. 

A  'seven-banded'  snake  {Trop.  Icbcris)  had  six. 

A  '  chicken  snake '  {Col.  exiinms). 

A    'moccasin   snake'    {Tropidoiiotus  fasciatus)    had    nine 

440  SNAKES. 

young  ones.  This  species  has  sometimes  produced  young 
and  eggs  at  the  same  time. 

A  'garter  snake'  {Tropidonotus  ordi?iatJcs). 

A  boa  constrictor  had  eight  pretty  little  active  snakelings 
that  at  two  days  old  pretended  to  constrict  my  fingers, 
and  forcibly  enough  to  prove  their  powers. 

On  two  occasions  at  the  Gardens  within  the  time 
specified,  hybrids  have  been  born  between  Epicratis 
angulifer  and  CJiilobotJirus  inornattis,  and  I  can  but  think 
that  occurrences  of  this  nature  must  happen  among  snakes 
in  their  wild  state  occasionally,  which  may  throw  some 
light  on  the  perplexities  of  classifiers. 

In  August  1878,  three  were  born  alive;  and  in  recording 
the  event  the  Secretary  to  the  Zoological  Society,  P.  Lutley 
Sclater,  Esq.,  Ph.D.,  F.R.S.,  etc.,  writes  that  there  can  be  no 
question  as  to  the  pairing  of  these  two  snakes,  both  in  the 
same  cage,  and  as  there  was  no  male  Epia'atis  in  the 
collection.    Three  were  alive  and  six  bad  eggs  were  produced. 

In  September  1879,  two  more  hybrids  w^ere  born  between 
the  same  pair;  who,  at  any  rate,  remained  constant  to 
each  other. 

Of  the  venomous  serpents  that  have  fallen  under  my 
own  notice  at  the  Zoological  Gardens,  the  little  Indian 
viper  {Echis  carinatd)  had  three  young  ones  in  July 
1875.  Only  two  survived  a  few  weeks.  They  changed 
their  coat  at  an  early  day,  but  ate  nothing ;  nor  did  the 
mother,  who  soon  died.  One  may  mention  here  that  the 
vipers  in  collections  rarely  do  survive  long  after  giving  birth 
to  young.  This  may  be  only  owing  to  an  unhealthy  con- 
dition in  captivity,  but  merits  inquiry. 


Four  common  adders  {Vipera  bei^us)   and  several  broods 
of  the  Daboia  have  also  been  produced. 

The  African  viper  of  the  coloured  illustration  is  another 
example,  as  having  afforded  opportunities  for  observation. 

In  point  of  numbers  we  find  the  families  varying  from 
three  or  four  to  upwards  of  a  hundred.  When  the  parent 
is  in  health,  the  young  are  produced  easily  and  rapidly. 
Vipera  nasicornis  deposited  her  forty-six  children  within 
about  three  hours.  A  Java  snake  (though  not  in  our 
London  Ophidarium)  produced  twenty-four  young  ones  in 
twenty  minutes.  Anaconda,  in  April  1877,  on  the  contrary, 
exhibited  considerable  protraction,  extruding  bad  eggs  at 
irregular  intervals  for  many  days.  She  will  form  the 
subject  of  the  next  chapter. 

Incubation,  or  the  hatching  of  eggs  by  the  maternal 
warmth,  seems  not  to  have  been  suspected  by  ophi- 
ologists  until  a  comparatively  recent  date ;  but  by  the 
non-scientific,  the  barbarian  and  the  untutored  natives  of 
hot  countries,  who  see,  but  dream  not  that  in  future  ages 
what  they  saw  and  incidentally  spoke  of  would  be  of 
weight  to  the  enlightened  of  as  yet  unexisting  nations, — 
by  such  the  fact  was  known  long  ere  its  worth  as  a 
fact  was  recognised.  Yet,  as  has  been  already  seen  in  these 
pages,  evidence  given  without  intent  and  purpose  often  is 
of  scientific  importance.  Aristotle  spoke  of  incubation;  but 
with  classic  writers  the  difficulty  of  sifting  fact  from  fable 
may  cause  the  whole  to  be  rejected. 

We  owe  to  Zoological  Societies  and  menageries  the  con- 
firmation of  the  cojivaison  of  at  least  one  species  of  serpents. 
Subsequently   we   are   told,    'The   python   only   incubates/ 

442  SNAKES. 

this  snake  being  generally  mentioned  as  the  one  exception  ; 
and  only  within  a  very  few  years  has  maternal  affection  been 
accredited  to  any  others.  Mr.  P.  H.  Gosse  was  informed 
by  the  negroes  in  Jamaica  of  the  habits  of  the  yellow  boa. 
Sir  Joseph  Fayrer  was  informed  by  the  jugglers  that*  over 
and  over  again  they  had  dug  cobras  out  of  their  holes 
sitting  on  tJieir  eggs'  Dr.  E.  Nicholson  was  informed  '  on 
trustworthy  authority  that  the  Hamadryad  has  been  found 
coiled  upon  a  nest  of  evidently  artificial  construction.'  He 
thinks  snakes  always  watch  over  their  eggs,  and  frequent 
the  locality  where  they  have  deposited  them.  The  keeper 
at  the  Gardens  confirms  this  by  his  own  observations. 
*  They  do  care  for  their  eggs  in  their  own  way/  he  assured 
me,  and  display  unusual  irritability  and  wildness  at  such 
times.^  In  menageries,  however,  their  habits  are  always 
more  or  less  artificial ;  they  cannot  seek  spots  for  them- 
selves, or  exercise  maternal  instinct  beyond  doing  the  best 
they  can  under  the  circumstances.  Anything  in  the  way 
of  extra  indulgences,  such  as  soft  rubbish,  moss,  or  sand, 
is  duly  appreciated  when  eggs  are  about  to  be  deposited, 
and  we  find  maternal  ophidians  resort  at  once  to  this. 

In  a  footnote,  vol.  xvi.  p.  65  of  the  Annales  des  sciences 
natiirelles,  we  read  : — '  //  parait  que  V incubation  des  serpents 
est  un  fait  si  connu  dans  V Inde,  qu'il  entre  inane  dans  lenr 
contes  populaires.      M.  Roidin  vi'a  fait   reniarqner  dans  le 

^  Since  this  was  written,  Dr.  Stradling  informed  me  that  a  very  tame  ring 
snake  in  his  Reptilium  laid  some  eggs  and  coiled  herself  upon  them  zealously  (or 
some  days.  A  remarkable  proof  of  her  care  for  them  was  seen  in  her  trying  to 
bite  when  disturbed.  He  had  never  before  known  Coluber  natrix  to  display  this 
anger.  In  the  Zoologist  of  September  1882,  the  Doctor  contributed  a  long  and 
important  account  of  this  incubation  with  its  attendant  features. 


second  voyage  de  Sindbad  le  marin  {nouvelle  traduction 
Aiiglaise  des  ^  Milk  et  une  nuits'  par  W,  Lane,  torn.  iii.  p.  20) 
le  passage  siiivant :  Alors  je  regardai  dans  la  caverne,  et  vis, 
an  fond,  un  enorme  serpent  eiidornii  sur  ses  cenfs.' 

Here  again,  by  accident,  an  ophidian  habit  known  in  the 
8th  century  has  been  revealed  to  the  scientific  of  the 
19th  century. 

In  the  17th  century,  when  the  Royal  Society  was  founded 
and  scientific  information  of  all  descriptions  was  welcome 
in  their  published  Transactions,  the  subject  of  serpent 
brooding  appeared  in  those  pages.  In  vol.  i.  p.  138,  a  few 
terse  words  exactly  express  what  modern  ophiologists  have 
of  late  years  verified.  *  Several  have  taken  notice  that  there 
is  a  difference  between  the  brooding  of  Snakes  and  Vipers  ; 
those  laying  their  Eggs  in  Dung-hills  by  whose  warmth 
they  are  hatched,  but  these  (Vipers)  brooding  their  Eggs 
within  their  Bellies,  and  bringing  forth  live  Vipers.  To 
which  may  be  added, — That  some  affirm  to  have  seen  Snakes 
lye  upon  their  Eggs  as  Hens  sit  upon  theirs.'  This  was 
published  in  1665. 

The  truth  of  ophidian  incubation  in  at  least  one  species 
was  finally  established  at  the  Musce  d'Histoire  at  Paris 
in  1 84 1,  when  Python  bivittatns  or  Python  a  deux-raies — 
named  from  two  black  lines  diverging  from  the  mouth — 
incubated  her  fifteen  eggs.  This  celebrated  serpent  has 
enriched  zoological  annals  in  several  points  of  interest.  She 
assisted  to  confirm  the  question  of  whether  snakes  drink, 
and,  as  will  be  seen,  whether  they  will  take  dead  food.  In 
connection  with  the  present  subject,  the  observations  made 
by  M.  Dumcril  during  her  incubation  in  the  months  of  May 

444  SNAKES. 

and  June  1841  are  of  such  interest  that  I  will  translate 
from  a  paper  read  at  the  Academy  of  Sciences  in  Paris,  by 
M.  Valenciennes,  19th  July  1841,  and  published  in  the 
Annales  des  sciences  naturelles^  torn.  xvi.  2^^  serie,  p.  65. 
It  will  be  remembered  that  M.  Dumeril  (to  whom  we  are 
indebted  for  the  most  complete  work  on  Erpetologie  generate 
that  graces  the  shelves  of  our  Great  National  Library)  was 
at  that  time  Professeur  d'Erpetologie  au  Musee  de  Paris, 
and  specially  charged  with  the  management  of  that  part  of 
the  menagerie. 

M.  Valenciennes  began  his  paper  by  reminding  his  audience 
that  the  temperature  of  birds  rises  in  various  degrees  during 
the  period  of  incubation,  proposing  the  questions, '  Do  reptiles 
not  offer  a  similar  phenomenon  ?  '  '  Do  they  never  brood  on 
their  eggs  ? '  As  far  as  was  known  of  native  reptiles,  the 
answer  would  be  in  the  negative.  However,  M.  Lamarre- 
piquot,  in  his  travels  in  Chandernagor  and  the  isle  of  Bourbon, 
seems  to  show  that  a  large  serpent  of  India,  and  some  other 
species,  se  pla^ait  sur  ses  oenfs  et  les  echaiiffait  en  developpant 
pendant  ce  temps  une  cJiateur  notable.  Many  eminent  natural- 
ists doubted  this,  until  it  was  confirmed  in  the  Paris  python, 
in  which  was  an  example  of  prolonged  and  uninterrupted 
incubation  for  the  space  of  fifty-six  days. 

M.  Valenciennes  proceeded  to  describe  that  she  was  in  a 
cage  with  others,  and  that  a  temperature  higher  than  the 
outside  air  was  maintained.  During  January  and  February 
she  coupled  several  times,  and  in  February  ate  six  or  seven 
pounds  of  raw  beef  that  was  tied  on  to  a  live  rabbit  of 
middling  size.  Food  offered  her  afterwards,  for  three  weeks 
in  succession,  she  refused  ;   but,  as    described    in    chap,  iv., 


she  drank  no  less  than  five  times  during  her  brooding. 
Sloughing  occurred  on  the  4th  April.  Generally  gentle  and 
quiet,  she  became  excited  on  the  5th  May,  and  tried  to  bite 
any  one  who  approached  her.  Her  condition  being  evident, 
she  had  been  left  alone  and  undisturbed  in  her  cage  ;  and  at 
six  o'clock  on  the  morning  of  the  6th  of  May,  laid  an  Qgg, 
fourteen  others  being  deposited  by  half-past  nine  A.M.  The 
eggs  were  soft  at  first,  of  an  oval  form,  and  an  ashy-grey 
colour,  but  afterwards  became  rounder  and  of  a  clear  white. 
They  were  all  separate.  She  collected  them  in  a  cone-shaped 
pile,  and  rolled  herself  round  them,  so  as  to  completely  hide 
every  one,  her  head  being  at  the  summit  of  the  cone.  For 
fifty-six  days  she  kept  perfectly  motionless,  excepting  when 
manifesting  impatience  if  any  one  attempted  to  touch  her 
eggs.  Notwithstanding  this  want  of  trustfulness  on  the  part 
of  the  interesting  invalid,  M.  Dumeril  achieved  some  im- 
portant experiments  regarding  her  temperature. 

Reptiles  are  '  obedient  to  the  surrounding  temperature,'  we 
may  repeat,  but  in  the  present  instance  there  was  warmth  in 
her  perceptible  to  the  touch  {ujie  chaleiir  7iotable).  The 
temperature  of  the  cage  was  20°  (Reaumur  ?),  that  under  the 
woollen  coverlet  where  she  reposed  was  21° ;  but  in  her  coils, 
where  M.  Dumeril  inserted  one  of  the  best  thermometers 
that  could  be  procured,  she  was  41°,  and  always  of  a  higher 
temperature  by  some  20°.  Placing  the  thermometer  either 
upon  her  or  between  the  folds  of  her  body,  only  a  slight 
variation  was  perceptible,  but  it  was  invariably  higher  than 
the  surrounding  air. 

On  the  2nd  of  July  one  of  the  shells  split  {la  coque  sest 
fendillce),  and  the  head  of  a  little  python  appeared.    During 

446  SNAKES. 

that  day  the  little  creature  only  twisted  about  within  its  shell, 
now  its  head,  now  its  tail  being  visible  outside,  and  with- 
drawn again.  The  next  day  the  wee  snake  made  its  debut 
altogether,  and  began  to  crawl  about  {s'est  mise  a  rainper).  It 
lost  no  time  in  exploring  to  the  remotest  corners  of  its 
blanket,  and  by  degrees  showed  itself  to  the  world.  During 
the  next  four  days  eight  were  similarly  hatched,  the  seven 
remaining  eggs,  at  various  stages  of  development,  having 
apparently  been  crushed  by  superincumbent  weight. 

The  mother,  on  the  3rd  of  July,  ate  six  more  pounds  of 
beef,  after  her  fast  of  nearly  five  months  ;  but  with  the 
posterior  part  of  her  body  still  folded  over  the  eggs.  She 
then  quitted  them,  and  displayed  no  further  care,  having 
covered  them  for  so  long  a  time,  and  even  defended  them 
with  such  assiduity.  From  ten  to  fourteen  days  after  being 
hatched,  the  young  ones  all  changed  their  coats,  and  then 
ate  some  little  sparrows,  throwing  themselves  upon  them, 
and  constricting  them  like  grown-up  pythons. 

M.  Valenciennes  drew  attention  to  the  circumstance  that 
only  in  hot  countries  do  serpents  incubate  their  eggs,  i.e. 
only  the  serpents  indigenous  to  hot  countries.  In  temperate 
ones,  where  the  average  warmth  is  insufficient,  they  resort  to 
artificial  heat ;  as,  for  instance,  manure  heaps,  or  decaying 

Thus  was  this  important  question  settled,  and  the  hatching 
of  the  young  brood  in  Paris  became  a  chronological  era  in 
ophidian  annals. 

When  therefore,  in  January  1862,  twenty-one  years  after- 
wards, a  python  seba  in  our  own  Gardens  laid  upwards  of  a 
hundred  eggs,  immense  interest  and  curiosity  were  excited 

D  0  SNAKES  INC  UBA  TE?  447 

among  the  zoologists  of  the  day,  for  here  at  home  in  London 
was  a  grand  opportunity  for  observing  the  one  only  snake 
which  at  that  time  was  supposed  to  exhibit  any  sort  of 
maternal  instinct.  Plenty  of  damp  moss  had  been  supplied 
to  her,  the  temperature  maintained  in  the  cage  being  supposed 
sufficient  for  her  well-being.  She  pushed  the  moss  into  a 
kind  of  nest,  and  when  the  '  long  string  of  eggs '  were  de- 
posited, she  arranged  them  in  a  nearly  level  mass,  and  then 
coiled  herself  over  and  around  them  so  as  to  hide  and  cover 
them  as  much  as  possible.  Sometimes  she  changed  her 
position  a  little,  and  re-arranged  her  eggs,  and  in  various 
w^ays  rendered  herself  worthy  of  record. 

Ophiologists  had  scientific  facts  to  verify  :  this  opportunity 
must  not  be  neglected  for  ascertaining  whether  so  cold  a 
nature,  and  in  midwinter,  could  produce  sufficient  warmth 
by  lying  there  day  after  day  upon  her  bushel  of  eggs.  So 
thermometers  were  ever  and  anon  thrust  between  her  coils, 
or  held  close  to  her  ;  first  here,  then  there,  after  the  example 
of  M.  Dumeril  in  Paris.  Other  disturbances  in  the  way  of 
cleaning  out  the  cage  and  supplying  her  companion  in 
captivity  with  food  and  water  were  angrily  resented  by  the 
poor  patient,  who  had  no  chance  of  the  tranquillity  that  she 
would  have  sought  for  herself  in  her  native  tropics.  Besides 
which,  the  chances  against  hatching  were  far  greater  in  her 
case  than  in  the  Paris  and  Amsterdam  pythons.  The  former 
saved  only  eight  out  of  her  fifteen,  and  here  we  had,  in  round 
numbers,  one  hundred,  more  than  she  could  successfully 
cover  at  one  time.  Moreover,  a  most  untoward  accident 
happened  one  night  by  the  tank  overflowing  among  her  eggs, 
necessitating  a  complete  disturbance  of  them.     What  wonder, 

448  SNAKES. 

then,  that  she  was  irritable  and  even  savage  during  the  whole 
time  of  her  incubation  !  One  tgg,  examined  fifteen  days 
after  it  was  laid,  contained  a  living  embryo,  so  there  were 
hopes  of  some  at  least  maturing.  For  more  than  seven  weeks 
she  remained  patiently  brooding,  when  all  hope  of  hatching 
any  of  the  eggs  had  vanished,  and  it  became  necessary  to 
take  them  from  her.  This  w^as  done  by  degrees,  and  the  task 
was  no  easy  one.  The  keeper  watched  his  opportunity  to 
raise  the  sliding  door  at  the  back  of  the  cage,  make  a  snatch 
at  those  nearest  him,  and  shut  down  the  slide  with  celerity, 
or  the  exasperated  mother  would  have  seized  him.  He 
nearly  got  his  arm  broken  more  than  once  by  the  despatch  he 
was  compelled  to  use.  Sometimes,  so  quick  was  she,  that  in 
thrusting  down  the  slide  she  was  nearly  jammed  by  it. 
Holland  protected  himself  by  holding  up  a  corner  of  the  rug 
so  as  to  hide  himself  when  he  had  occasion  to  open  the  slide 
door  ;  yet  one  day  she  *  jumped  '  at  him,  seizing  the  rug,  and 
with  a  toss  of  her  head  jerking  it  back  with  such  violence 
that  a  shower  of  the  gravel  came  hailing  upon  the  glass  in 
front  of  the  cage,  to  the  consternation  and  alarm  of  the 
spectators  gathered  there,  and  who  at  the  moment  imagined 
the  glass  was  broken,  and  that  the  infuriated  reptile  would  be 
among  them.  But  they  were  behind  her  ;  it  was  only  towards 
the  keeper  that  her  fury  was  directed  :  he  had  taken  away  the 
last  of  her  eggs.  When,  then,  he  shut  down  the  slide,  she 
kept  her  angry  eyes  fixed  upon  it  for  a  long  while.  Presently 
she  sought  in  her  empty  nest,  upon  which,  so  long  as  any  eggs 
had  remained  to  her,  she  had  re-settled  herself  after  each 
irruption.  At  last  she  took  to  her  bath,  in  which  she  remained 
for  a  long  while. 


After  the  scenes  witnessed  during  those  seven  weeks,  no 
one  could  doubt  the  existence  of  maternal  affection  ;  and 
this  was  worth  proving,  as  some  authors  would  have  per- 
suaded us  that  snakes,  and  particularly  the  non-venomous 
ones,  manifest  total  indifference  regarding  their  eggs.  The 
other  important  fact,  an  increased  temperature,  was  also 
again  observable,  proving  that  a  serpent  can  really  hatch 
her  eggs  by  the  warmth  of  her  own  body. 

Last  summer,  1881,  another  python  laid  about  twenty 
eggs  at  the  London  Ophidarium,  but,  alas !  neither  were 
any  of  that  brood  hatched.  For  future  broods,  now  that 
the  fact  of  a  raised  temperature  has  been  proved,  the  next 
scientific  triumph  will  be  to  develop  the  young  ones,  dispens- 
ing with  thermometers,  and  substituting  perfect  tranquillity, 
with  every  possible  aid  and  comfort  to  the  mother. 

That  snakes  under  these  peculiar  circumstances  do  appre- 
ciate little  'delicate  attentions,'  ample  proof  has  been  afforded 
in  the  Jamaica  'yellow  boa'  {CJiilobotJinis  inornaUis),  the 
species  which  on  several  occasions  has  produced  broods 
in  London,  and  the  one  in  which  Mr.  P.  H.  Gosse  verified 
the  marvellous  instinct  of  withholding  its  eggs  when  circum- 
stances were  not  propitious  for  their  deposition.  This  is 
one  of  the  *Colubri'  alluded  to  by  T.  Rymer  Jones,  'which 
may  at  pleasure  be  rendered '  {i.e.  render  themselves)  '  vivi- 
parous by  retarding  their  laying.' 

But  when  Gosse  published  his  work  on  Jamaica  (185  i), 
he  did  not  appear  to  be  aware  of  what  Jones  and  Cuvicr 
had  said  on  this  subject,  but  stated  the  result  of  his  own 
observations.  He  had  become  convinced  that  this  species 
of  snake  forms  a  sort  of  nest,  and  incubates  its  eggs ;  when 

2  F 

450  SNAKES. 

subsequently,  one  that  he  had  in  captivity  produced  living 
young,  he  was  staggered.  'Is  it  possible,'  he  wrote,  'that 
a  serpent  normally  oviparous,  might  retain  the  eggs  within 
the  oviduct  until  the  birth  of  her  young,  when  circumstances 
were  not  propitious  ?  ' 

'  Is  it  possible,'  again  asks  an  American  naturalist,  so 
lately  as  1879, — '  can  it  be  true  that  Heterodon  platyrhinos  and 
Tropidonotiis  sipedon  '  (both  harmless)  'are  sometimes  vivipar- 
ous and  sometimes  ovoviviparous  ? '  This  writer,  F.  W.  Cragin, 
had  been  told  that  the  two  above  species  were  ovoviviparous 
(a  word  of  no  value  as  a  definition),  and  he  writes  in  the 
Avierican  Naturalist,  vol.  xiii.  p.  710,  that  out  of  twenty-two 
eggs  of  Heterodon,  ploughed  up  out  of  the  sand  in  Long 
Island,  one  he  put  into  alcohol  to  preserve  it  as  found,  and 
the  others  were  hatched  on  the  fourth  day,  showing  that 
sometimes  at  least  it  is  oviparous,  as  supposed  are  some  of 
the  EiitcBnias. 

Mr.  Gosse  describes  one  Jamaica  boa  in  confinement,  that 
was  ill  and  inactive,  refusing  food.  It  was  unusually  vicious, 
and  bit  hard  enough  to  draw  blood,  the  effect  of  the  fine 
teeth  being  like  a  severe  cat-scratch.  It  rendered  itself 
further  offensive  when  disturbed,  by  emitting  an  insufferable 
odour,  and  at  length  gave  birth  to  living  young. 

That  this  snake  when  at  liberty  lays  eggs,  he  had  seen, 
and  in  a  nest  of  artificial  construction.  One  that  he  knew 
of  was  excavated  in  a  bank.  The  snake  was  seen  issuing 
from  a  narrow  passage  just  large  enough  to  admit  it.  Dry, 
crumbled  earth  had  been  discharged  at  the  entrance  of  the 
passage,  where  it  lay  in  a  heap.  The  bank  being  dug  into, 
the  passage  was  found  to  lead  to  a  cavity  lined  with  soft 


rubbish,  leaves,  etc.,  which  must  have  been  carried  there. 
Mr.  Gosse  does  not  pretend  to  affirm  positively  that  the 
snake  constructed  that  secluded  nest  for  itself.  It  mis^ht 
have  done  so,  pushing  out  the  mould  by  the  lateral  undula- 
tions of  its  body,  as  the  burrowing  snakes  do,  and  carrying 
back  the  soft  trash  in  its  mouth  ;  or,  if  it  only  chose  a  nest 
formed  by  some  other  animal,  this  proved  maternal  care. 
There  were  eggs  in  the  nest,  the  shell  being  like  'white  kid.' 
'  On  snipping  one,  a  clear  glaire  exuded,  in  which  was  a 
large,  whitish  vitellus,  stained  with  blood  vessels,  and  con- 
taining a  young  snake  seven  inches  long,  but  immature.' 
One  foetus  writhed.  The  foetus  being  formed  and  capable 
of  motion,  proved,  Mr.  Gosse  thought,  that  the  eggs  had 
been  some  time  laid.  Incubation  is  a  characteristic  of  that 
family,  the  author  affirms.  Of  the  various  cases  he  knew, 
one  female  boa  brought  forth  eleven  snakes.  In  another 
snake  that  was  killed,  ten  or  twelve  fully -formed  youn^r 
ones  were  found. 

One  of  these  'yellow  boas'  in  a  private  collection  dis- 
played unusual  restlessness  and  uneasiness,  crawling  about 
its  cage  as  if  in  search  of  something.  Those  who  had  the 
care  of  it  suspected  that  she  was  with  eggs,  and  supplied  her 
with  fine  sand.  This  appeased  her  somewhat,  and  after 
twirling  herself  around  to  form  it  into  a  kind  of  nest,  she 
laid  some  eggs.  One  of  the  same  kind  at  the  Gardens 
accepted  gratefully  some  soft  cotton  wool  which  a  lady 
brought  for  her  and  her  young  progeny,  all  of  whom  nestled 
themselves  in  it  contentedly  and  speedily. 

Two  other  noteworthy  cases  have  to  be  recorded,  but  they 
shall  form  the  subject  of  the  ensuing  chapters. 








MAXIMUS  and  Minimus.  Yet  by  right  of  its  name 
Anguis,  our  little  slow-worm — truly  a  lizard — claims 
a  place  in  these  pages  ;  by  right  of  form  also,  and  by  right 
of  promise ;  and  still  further,  because  on  the  authority  of 
some  of  our  eminent  physiologists  there  is  in  the  dentition 
of  some  of  the  boas  an  affinity  with  lizards ;  and  inasmuch 
as  this  little  limbless  lizard  affords  a  good  example  of  those 
whose  ancestry,  as  Huxley  tells  us,  found  it  profitable  to 
do  without  their  legs  and  become  snakes,  she  shall  be 
introduced  in  company  with  the  largest  of  all  her  ophidian 

Anaconda  also,  in  having  vestiges  of  hind  limbs,  affords 
in  these  another  example  of  what  Darwin  calls  atrophied 
organs,  remnants  of  what  were  once,  no  doubt,  a  pair  of 
very  excellent  saurian  legs. 

Illustrious  naturalists  who  were  authorities  in  their  day — 
as,  for  instance,  Linnaeus  and  Cuvier — included  slow-worms 
with   serpents,    the    links   between    them    being    so    close. 


They  have  also  been  included  among  the  burrowing  snakes, 
many  of  which  have  no  better  right  to  the  name  of  Anguis, 
With  the  advance  of  herpetology  more  minute  distinctions 
of  classification  occur,  and  anatomy  now  proves  in  the 
'brittle  snake'  a  stronger  relationship  to  lizards  than  to 
serpents.  It  has  eyelids,'  like  the  lizards  ;  no  palate  teeth, 
non-extensible  jaw-bones,  and  more  consolidated  head- 
bones  ;  so  that  you  never  see  the  facial  distortion  in  these 
lizard-snakes  when  feeding,  that  is  so  striking  in  the  true 
ophidians.  It  has  scales  alike  all  round,  and  also  a  distinct 
neck  and  a  vestige  of  sternum  and  pelvic  bones  whence 
formerly  two  pairs  of  legs  proceeded.  From  an  evolutionary 
point  of  view,  therefore,  it  is  even  in  advance  of  Anaconda, 
which  has  still  its  'spurs'  to  get  rid  of. 

Space  need  not  here  be  occupied  in  a  recapitulation  of 
other  features  and  the  manners  and  habits  oi  Anguis  fragilis 
beyond  what  the  subject  in  hand  demands  ;  and  in  connec- 
tion with  this  our  two  anguine  heroines  will  be  found  to 
display  one  other  striking  feature  in  common.  For  the  rest, 
in  Bell's  British  Reptiles  it  is  treated  at  length.  In  Wood's 
Natural  History,  also,  there  is  a  long  and  minute  account 
of  the  slow-worm,  including  details  of  a  most  interesting 
character,  as  being  gathered  from  personal  observations. 

Anaconda,  however,  claims  historical  priority. 

As  a  water  snake  it  has  already  been  partially  described 
(p.  228),  and  some  of  its  synonyms  were  given  in  explanation 
of  its  scientific  name  Eunectes,  to  trace  its  right  to  be  included 
among  the  water  snakes,  and  muriiius,  to  show  the  nature 
of  its  food.  Being  a  native  of  tropical  America— which 
embraces  many  extensive  countries  and  includes  numerous 

454  SA'AKES. 

tribes  of  the  aboriginal  inhabitants — this  serpent  is  also 
known  under  numerous  vernaculars,  puzzling  enough  to  the 
reader  of  travels  who  does  not  at  first  sight  realize  that  the 
book  in  which  he  now  reads  of  the  Matatoro  describes  one 
region,  and  the  volume  in  which  he  has  read  of  the 
Sjicariuba  or  of  the  Jacumama  describes  another,  and  that 
these  are  one  and  the  same  snake.  The  spelling  and 
pronunciation  of  even  the  same  word  among  adjacent  tribes 
add  to  the  perplexity.  Among  other  of  Anaconda's  familiar 
vernaculars,  which  v/e  meet  with  in  all  South  American 
books  of  travel,  are  Abovia,  Ciiciiriu  or  Cuairiiibu,  El  trago 
ve?iado,  Canwudi  or  Kamoudi,  Sucumjii,  and  others.  The 
name  by  which  it  is  now  generally  known.  Anaconda,  or 
Anacondo,  v/as  fixed  by  Cuvier  in  1817. 

Very  exaggerated  ideas  as  to  its  size  have  obtained,  prob- 
ably traceable  to  Waterton,  who  tells  us  the  Spaniards  of  the 
Oroonoque  positively  affirm  that  he  grows  to  the  length  of 
from  seventy  to  eighty  feet ;  and  that  as  his  name  Matatoro 
implies,  he  will  eat  the  largest  bull.  Before  yielding  full 
faith  to  such  stories,  we  must  ascertain  whether  that  'bull' 
corresponded  in  dimensions  with  our  Durham  prize  ox,  or 
the  miniature  bovines  of  the  Himalayas.  Hartwig  improves 
upon    Anaconda's  dinner  capacities   in   telling   us   that  the 

*  Hideous  Reptile  will  engulph  a  horse  and  its  rider,  or  a 
whole  ox '  (prize  ox,  no  doubt)  *  as  far  as  its  horns.' 

Turn  we  to  science  and  to  ocular  proof  of  what  Anaconda 
really  is — for  there  are  and  have  been  living  examples  in  our 
zoological    collections,   and   whatever   she   may   have   been 

*  formerly,'  her  modern  dimensions  rarely  exceed  thirty 


In  the  present  case  her  interest  lies  in  her  maternal  aspect, 
for  it  is  the  one  that  was  brought  to  London  in  1877  of 
which  we  now  speak,  and  who  astonished  the  ophiological 
public  by  giving  birth  to  fully-developed  young  ones  in 
April  of  that  year. 

In  Land  and  Water  of  the  preceding  February,  Mr.  Frank 
Buckland  described  the  arrival  of  this  snake  at  Liverpool  in 
a  box,  which  with  its  occupant  weighed  over  2  cwt.,  and  of 
the  necessary  examination  '  he '  (the  snake)  was  obliged  to 
undergo  by  Mr.  Bartlette  previous  to  purchase.  Being  at 
length  conveyed  to  the  Zoological  Gardens,  *he'  was  reported 
as  being  thin  and  as  having  no  inclination  to  feed,  but  glad 
to  remain  in  *  his '  bath  almost  continuously. 

It  was  brought  from  the  vicinity  of  the  Amazons,  and 
must  have  been  cramped  up  for  many  months  in  this  close 
prison.  No  wonder  it  turned  at  once  into  its  native  element, 
although  the  small  tank  restricted  its  movements  almost  as 
much  as  its  travelling  box.  The  poor  thing  was  seen  to  be 
suffering  discomfort,  presumably  from  its  long  journey  and 
close  confinement ;  and  one  day,  when  endeavouring  to 
extend  itself  and  move  more  at  ease  in  the  narrow  space 
between  the  tank  and  the  front  glass,  it  forced  out  the  entire 
frame  by  the  power  of  its  coils.  Fortunately  the  huge 
python  and  two  other  Anacondas  in  the  same  cage  at  the 
time  were  in  a  torpid  condition  ;  or  had  those  four  powerful 
snakes  been  lively  or  spiteful,  and  all  at  liberty  at  this  crisis, 
grave  results  might  have  accrued.  Aid  being  at  hand,  the 
loosened  frame  was  promptly  re-adjusted  ;  but  this  practical 
illustration  of  Anaconda's  powers  was  a  useful  lesson  to 
snake  keepers. 

455  SNAKES. 

The  peculiar  condition  of  this  snake  not  bein^^  suspected, 
not  even  her  sex,  the  appearance  of  two  fully-developed 
though  dead  young  ones  on  April  2d  was  an  important  event 
in  the  Ophidarium,  and  one  to  be  forthwith  chronicled  in 
the  Zoological  Society's  Proceedings.  The  secretary,  at  the 
ensuing  meeting,  exhibited  the  two  young  Anacondas,  and 
afforded  some  interesting  details  concerning  the  mother. 
During  the  next  few  days  four  more  young  ones  were  born, 
but  all  dead  ;  and  during  several  weeks,  others  in  a  high 
state  of  decomposition  were  produced.  '  She  might  have 
had  a  hundred ! '  said  the  keeper,  who  felt  fully  persuaded 
that  she  had  voluntarily  'kept  them  back.'  Four  were  well 
developed ;  one  was  partly  coiled  in  the  ruptured  shell, 
which  was  of  a  tough,  coriaceous  texture,  white,  and  as  thick 
as  orange  peel. 

Occurrences  of  this  nature  send  us  to  our  book-shelves. 
The  python  and  some  of  the  boas  had  laid  eggs,  and 
Anaconda  might  have  been  expected  to  do  the  same,  as  we 
read  in  the  papers  that  wrote  *  leaders '  on  the  event.  But 
suddenly  we  all  discover  ('  we '  second  and  third  rate 
naturalists,  who  regard  the  biological  professors  at  a 
respectful  distance,  and  aspire  only  to  a  printed  half  column 
in  a  similarly  aspiring  journal), — we  all  discover  that  Cuvier 
had  long  ago  pointed  out  that  rEunect  viurin  is  viviparous 
(like  the  regular  water  snakes),  and  that  Schlegel  had 
subsequently  confirmed  the  fact  from  personal  observation. 
Thus  we  learn  as  we  go. 

Those  born  dead  in  London  offered  no  exception,  therefore, 
to  the  rule,  but  were  rather  to  be  regarded  as  one  of  those 
cases  in  which  the  mother,  under  circumstances  unpropitious 


for  the  production  of  her  progeny,  retards  the  deposition  of 
her  eggs  or  her  young. 

Let  us  picture  to  ourselves  the  condition  of  this  poor 
Anaconda.  Just  at  the  very  time  when  instinct  would  have 
guided  her  to  the  spot  most  favourable  for  the  coming  brood, 
she  is  transferred  from  her  native  lagoons,  and  crowded  into 
a  dark  close  box  just  large  enough  to  contain  her.  Though 
without  water  for  many  months,  this  'good  swimmer'  arrives 
alive,  a  proof  of  her  astonishing  powers  of  endurance ;  but 
she  has  now  no  morass,  no  lagoon  or  refreshing  river  in 
which  to  invigorate  herself  and  aid  her  natural  functions, 
and  the  young  ones  die  unborn.  The  poor  mother  soon 
showed  evidence  of  disease  and  suffering,  and  was  after  a 
time  mercifully  put  to  death. 

There  was  no  possibility  of  ascertaining  the  period  of 
gestation  in  her  case,  but  there  was  every  reason  to  regard 
it  as  one  of  postponed  functions,  and  another  illustration 
of  that  astonishing  capability  described  by  ophiologists  of 
snakes  which  'may  at  pleasure,'  i.e.  at  will,  retard  the  laying 
of  eggs  or  birth  of  young ! 

The  prejudice  against  snakes  has  been  so  strong,  that 
there  are  persons  who  would  even  exclude  them  from  zoo- 
logical collections.  Should  these  pages  fall  under  the  eye 
of  such  persons,  they  must  admit  that  the  Ophidia  in  cap- 
tivity present  grand  opportunities  towards  the  attainment 
of  scientific  knowledge.  These  important  results  far  out- 
weigh the  less  pleasing  spectacles. 

And  now  for  our  little  Angnis  fragilis,  with  all  her 
wrong  names  and  the  wrong  impressions  produced  thereby. 

458  SNAKES. 

which,  with  some  particulars  of  her  behaviour  in  captivity, 
shall  form  the  subject  of  the  next  chapter.  Here  she  will, 
I  think,  be  accepted  among  those  examples  of  abnormal 
incubation  which  belong  to  the  present  one. 

Searching  for  the  lovely  little  Drosera  and  its  attendant 
exquisite  mosses  on  'The  Common'  at  Bournemouth  (the 
one  close  to  the  town),  on  the  look-out  for  lizards  also, 
I  saw  what  at  first  sight  appeared  to  be  an  extremely  long, 
black  slug,  lying  on  a  smiOoth  little  patch  of  grass  in  the 
sunshine.  Approaching  to  inspect  this  shining  nondescript, 
I  at  once  recognised  a  slow-worm.  Being  not  only  entirely 
and  deeply  black,  but  unusually  short  and  proportionately 
thicker  than  any  I  had  ever  seen,  the  familiar  '  worm '  had 
not  at  first  sight  been  identified.  Its  short,  blunt  tail  had 
evidently  lost  an  inch  or  two  ;  and  its  bulk  suggested  a 
speedy  increase  of  family.  Already  I  had  four  others 
and  a  green  lizard,  the  male  Laccrta  agilis,  which  I  had 
also  captured.  The  date  of  *  Blackie's  '  capture  was  August 
26,  1879;  the  precise  time  being  important,  because,  as 
just  now  stated,  the  period  of  gestation  depends  much  on 
the  degree  of  external  warmth  that  can  be  had  to  assist 
in  maturing  the  embryo ;  and,  as  many  of  my  readers 
will  recollect,  very  little  sunshine  had  we  that  summer. 
Chilly  rains  and  cloudy  weather  marked  the  season  ;  and 
to  this  I  attributed  the  fact  that  at  the  end  of  August  the 
slow-worm  was  still  enceinte,  when,  as  Bell  informs  us,  its 
ordinary  time  to  produce  young  is  June  or  July. 

Taking  her  up,  '  Blackie '  struggled  and  kicked,  if  such 
a  remnant  of  tail  can  be  said  to  '  kick '  (the  action  being  very 
similar),  and    displayed  activity  enough   to  show  that   she 


could  be  quick  enough  when  occasion  required  it.  Knowing 
her  shy,  burrowing  instincts,  I  at  once  laid  her  on  the  mosses 
which  filled  my  little  basket,  and  down  she  retreated,  there 
remaining  without  further  trouble. 

Deposited  in  a  box  with  the  others,  she  acted  similarly, 
remaining  hidden  under  the  sand  and  moss,  and  never 
showing  herself  on  the  surface,  as  the  rest  did  whenever 
a  hopeful  gleam  of  sunshine  tempted  them.  Just  the  tip 
of  her  little  black,  shining  nose  was  sometimes  visible,  as 
if  she  were  getting  a  breath  of  fresh  air  on  the  sly. 

One  of  the  other  slow-worms — already  several  weeks  in 
my  possession — had  appeared  to  be  in  a  similar  condition, 
and  was  much  wilder  than  the  rest,  effecting  escape  and 
circumventing  me  in  a  variety  of  ways,  while  her  companions 
were  comparatively  tame  and  contented.  The  green  lizard, 
also,  had  to  be  well  watched,  being  exceedingly  active,  dart- 
ing away  like  a  flash  whenever  the  cover  of  the  box  was 
removed  for  an  instant.  Their  cage  was  necessarily  and 
cruelly  small,  in  anticipation  of  a  journey  to  London,  and 
that  I  might  have  them  in  my  own  keeping  while  on  the 
move,  which  I  expected  to  be  for  some  weeks.  It  was 
covered  with  a  net  secured  by  a  strong  elastic ;  but  they 
could  easily  reach  the  top,  and  managed  most  cleverly  to 
push  up  this  net,  and  so  get  out.  The  way  in  which  one 
of  them  called  '  Lizzie '  achieved  this,  is  described  in  the 
ensuing  chapter.     Here  we  must  keep  to  our  subject. 

The  box  was  generally  close  to  an  open  window,  in  order 
to  catch  any  chance  ray  of  sunshine ;  but  the  truant  propen- 
sities of  the  inmates  necessitated  a  frequent  investigation, 
and    a  raking   up   of  the  moss  and   sand  with  which  they 

46o  SNAKES. 

were  supplied,  much  too  often  for  Blacklc's  peace  of  mind. 
She  continued  wild  and  alarmed,  defeating-  search  by  quick 
movements  below.  The  ever  active  lizard,  too,  had 
frequently  to  be  hunted  out  ;  for  whether  he  had  retreated 
,below,  or  had  gone  off  altogether,  could  not  be  ascertained 
unless  the  box  and  its  inmates  were  turned  out  bodily  to 
count  heads — a  species  of  roll-call  not  tending  to  tranquillize 
the  unquiet  pair.  These  trifles  are  mentioned  to  show  the 
sort  of  life  the  poor  little  captives  led  for  many  weeks. 
They  were  raked  over  or  turned  out  literally  topsy-turvy 
every  few  hours.  Only  at  night  had  they  any  peace  ;  for 
being  well  disposed  reptiles,  who  kept  regular  hours  and 
retired  early  to  rest,  but  not  rising  betimes  in  the  morning, 
they  could  be  safely  left  uncovered  until  and  unless 
sunshine  enticed  them  upwards. 

All  ate  and  drank  regularly  but  Blackie,  who,  so  far  as 
I  was  able  to  ascertain,  was  a  total  abstainer. 

Thus,  in  their  incommodious  box,  they  lived  until  the 
middle  of  October,  when  (after  making  visits  on  the  way, 
and  secretly  harbouring  my  *  snakes '  like  stolen  booty)  I 
arrived  in  London.  At  that  time  the  sun  seemed  trying 
to  atone  for  its  summer  deficiencies,  and  whenever  any  of 
its  grateful  warmth  could  be  obtained  through  the  London 
atmosphere  the  lizards  were  deposited  in  a  window,  but 
Blackie  remained  always  below.  Suddenly  she  also 
grew  refractory.  She  got  out  of  the  box,  and  had  frequent 
falls  from  the  table  to  the  floor.  So  had  the  other 
restless  one,  necessitating  still  more  frequent  roll-calls, 
and  bringing  troublous  times  on  themselves.  I  had 
observed    in     a     former    pet,    that    when    the    season    of 


hibernation  was  approaching,  Aiigiiis  fragilis  had  exhibited 
an  errant  disposition,  and  I  had  attributed  it  to  a  natural 
instinct  to  seek  a  winter  retreat;  but  in  the  present  case 
only  these  two  tried  to  get  away,  and  in  both  there  appeared 
to  be  a  similar  motive. 

On  one  occasion,  late  in  October,  Blackie  could  not  be 
found  for  several  days,  and  was  even  given  up  for  lost, 
when,  on  removing  a  number  of  books  that,  when  unpacked, 
had  been  temporarily  stacked  against  the  wall,  there  lay 
the  little  black  slow-worm  in  so  narrow  a  space  between  a 
quarto  volume  and  the  wall  that  it  seemed  impossible 
she  could  have  got  there.  Strange  to  tell,  the  poor  little 
thing  no  longer  struggled  to  get  away,  but  seemed  even 
glad  to  be  lifted  and  fondled  and  restored  to  her  moss. 

On  the  2nd  November,  some  frosty  days  having  arrived, 
and  no  more  worms  and  flies  being  procurable,  I  thought 
it  time  to  put  them  away  for  their  winter  sleep,  having  been 
so  instructed  by  Mr.  Green,  the  taxidermist  at  Bournemouth, 
of  whom  I  had  purchased  several.  So,  having  dismissed 
all  idea  of  an  increase  in  their  numbers,  I  prepared  a  large 
deep  jar  and  furnished  it  with  soft  hay,  moss,  and  sand, 
enough  for  them  to  burrow  into,  intending  to  consign  it 
and  them  to  an  attic. 

The  first  thing  on  the  morning  of  the  cold  ioggy  3rd  of 
November  1879,  I  went  as  usual  to  examine  the  box  and 
its  inmates — as  yet  in  my  sitting-room.  Lifting  the  moss 
to  count  heads,  I  saw  what  on  the  first  glance  in  that 
half  daylight  seemed  to  be  a  small  tender  snail,  apparently 
injured  in  some  way,  and  crawling  extended  in  a  wonderfully 
thin    line   from    its   shell.     What  presented    a   snail   to  my 

462  SNAKES. 

thoughts  was  because  a  few  days  previously — insects  being 
now  no  more,  and  other  food  hard  to  procure — my  maid 
had  brought  in  some  small  snails  as  an  offering  for  the 
'  snakes.*  These  having  been  declined,  I  wondered  to  see 
one  in  the  box,  but  turned  away  faint-hearted  from  the 
unpleasant  duty  of  removing  a  half-crushed  snail,  as  I  took 
it  to  be. 

After  being  fortified  with  a  hot  breakfast,  daylight  being 
now   brighter,   I   began  with   dainty  fingers   to  remove  the 
moss.    Judge  of  my  amazement  to  find  three  of  the  loveliest 
little   tiny   scraps    of    life,  wriggling,  twisting,    diving,  and 
defiantly — let  me  rather  say  intelligently,  or  instinctively — 
using  their  tongues  like  grown-up   slow-worms.     They  were 
Blackie's  children.     Not  a  doubt  about  it !     Three  were  free 
from  the  shell,  one  of  which  was  still  connected  with  it  by 
an    inch    or  more   of  the   umbilical    cord  ;   and   within  the 
shell — a  mere    membrane — was    some   yellow   yoke   and    a 
good  deal  of  glaire,  so  that  the  membrane  still  retained  the 
rounded    form.       Possibly    I    had     ruptured    this    egg    in 
disturbing  the  moss.     There  was  another  egg  quite  perfect, 
and  within  that  could  be  discerned  the  little  creature  curled 
up,  and  presenting   those   convolutions  which    in   the   half 
light  had   looked  so  like  a  small  snail  shell.     On  tenderly 
taking  up  this  perfect  egg,  the  wee  reptile  within  threw  itself 
into  such  an  agitation  that   it   burst  its  prison  house,  and 
emerged  prematurely  into  the  cold,  rough  world.     A  yolk  as 
big  as  a  hemp  seed  and  much  of  the  glaire  remained  behind. 
It  was  a  precisely  similar  case  to  that  of  a  young  Typhlops 
in  Jamaica,  described  by  Gosse,  where  the  reptile  '  crawled 
nimbly  out  of  a  ruptured  egg,  but  remained  attached  to  the 


vltellus.'  In  the  present  instance  the  umbilical  slit  was 
ominously  gaping",  showing  that  the  poor  little  creature  was 
not  nearly  ready  to  battle  with  life.  In  the  other  that  was 
not  yet  wholly  detached,  the  slit  was  less,  and  in  the  two 
which  had  hatched  themselves  (no  doubt  during  the  night) 
it  was  nearly  closed. 

During  the  day  six  more  were  born,  and  four  of  the  six 
in  the  membranous  shell.  Angitis  fragilis  is  always  con- 
sidered to  be  viviparous  ;  but  so  are  vipers,  and  here  in  three 
distinct  cases  under  public  observation  the  young  have  been 
produced  in  a  membranous  covering. 

The  activity  of  these  tiny  creatures  was  marvellous.  If 
meddled  with,  they  seemed  as  if  agitated  by  a  galvanic 
battery.  Their  whole  length  vibrated  with  nervous 
irritability.  In  colour  they  were  black  beneath  and  a 
silvery  white  above,  with  a  spot  of  black  on  the  head,  and  a 
fine,  thread-like  line  of  black  all  down  their  back.  The 
head  was  the  largest  part,  the  body  tapering  gradually  to 
the  tail.  They  were  In  length  about  2J  inches.  Very  bright 
black  eyes  had  they,  and  manners  like  the  adults,  pressing 
their  head  against  the  hand,  or  wherever  they  were,  with  the 
instinct  to  burrow  and  hide.  Their  silvery  aspect,  together 
with  their  mobile  susceptibility,  was  truly  mercurial.  To 
hold  or  retain  them  was  simply  impossible  ;  as  well  try  to 
restrain  a  stream  of  quicksilver.  In  a  fury  of  agitation  they 
would  leap  and  turn  over  and  twist  themselves  away  like  eels. 
Flaccid  and  tender  and  apparently  boneless,  the  difficulty  of 
taking  up  and  restraining  such  shreds  of  vitality  was  no  less 
difficult  than  interesting.  The  wee,  half-matured  fury  that 
rushed   impetuously  into  the  world  .spent    itself  in    restless 

464  SNAKES. 

efforts  to  dive  into  the  earth.  It  grew  gradually  more 
feeble,  and  died  the  third  day.  Altogether  there  were  eight 
or  more.  Three  were  hatched  before  I  saw  them,  the  rest 
were  produced  in  the  membranous  'shell,'  and  in  all  the 
shells  the  remains  of  the  yolk  were  seen.  A  remarkable 
feature  was  that  these  remains  of  egcr  all  vanished  in  a 
manner  that  wholly  baffled  my  investigations.  The  yellow 
yolk  was  too  palpable  to  become  absorbed  in  the  moss  and 
sand  ;  it  could  not  have  escaped  notice.  With  the  greatest 
care  I  searched  and  examined  every  spray  of  moss,  every 
blade  of  grass,  over  and  over  again,  but  could  discern  no 
trace  ;  neither  the  skin  nor  any  slimy  glaire,  nor  one  tinge 
of  yolk,  nor  any  globulous  collections  of  moisture  whatever. 
Blackie  did  not  eat  them  ;  for  she  remained  at  the  bottom  of 
the  box  while  the  cares  of  maternity  were  upon  her,  never 
moving.  There  was  no  possible  doubt  about  her  being  the 
mother  of  the  brood.  Her  companions  in  captivity  came  to 
the  surface  as  usual  during  an  hour  or  two  of  sunshine,  and 
then  retired  underground. 

In  removing  the  moss  that  first  day  to  look  for  Blackie,  I 
saw  by  an  enlargement  at  the  lower  part  of  the  body  that 
her  family  was  still  increasing  ;  and  if  such  a  creature  ca?i 
appeal,  the  look  with  which  she  feebly  raised  her  head  as  if 
to  entreat  not  to  be  disturbed,  was  one  not  to  be  disregarded. 
So  I  left  her  unmolested  the  whole  day,  and  indeed  until  she 
began  to  show  herself  and  move  about  like  the  rest,  coming 
up  if  enticed  by  sunshine,  and  retiring  early  below,  as  they 
all  did  daily. 

I  communicated  this  interesting  event  to  Mr.  Frank 
Buckland    at   the   time,  and    to   the  editor  of  a  zoological 


journal,  inviting  both  to  inspect  the  interesting  family.  I 
also  sent  a  short  account  of  the  November  brood  to  Land 
and  Water.  Mr.  Buckland  was,  I  believe,  absent  from 
town  ;  and  my  MS.  (now  before  me)  was  returned  from 
Land  and  Water  for  *  want  of  space.' 

Evidently  the  November  brood  were  after  all  but  sorry 
little  slow-worms,  beneath  the  notice  of  scientific  eyes,  and 
unduly  endowed  with  imaginary  importance  in  the  estimation 
of  their  enthusiastic  guardian  ! 

In  my  careful  examination  of  the  contents  of  the  cage  next 
day,  in  order  to  ascertain  the  chance  of  yet  other  silvery  shreds 
of  life,  I  observed  a  little  dry,  globular  substance,  which  had 
a  somewhat  suspicious  look.  It  was  firm  to  the  touch,  and 
on  breaking  it,  showed  a  veiny  sort  of  conglomerate  appear- 
ance, as  of  layers  or  convolutions.  Several  of  these  hard,  dry 
masses  I  afterwards  found,  all  on  being  broken  presenting 
a  similar  appearance.  Then  it  suddenly  occurred  to  me 
that  they  must  be  dried-up  eggs  of  the  other  slow-worm, 
and  that  she  must  have  deposited  them  some  time  previously. 
The  surface  of  sand  was  easily  accounted  for  by  the  frequent 
turning  over  and  stirring  up  of  the  soft  rubbish  in  the  cage. 
At  first  thinking  only  of  Blackic,  and  being  satisfied  that 
these  singular  little  masses  contained  no  life,  I  threw  them 
away ;  when,  too  late,  resolving  to  keep  some  and  Investigate 
their  nature,  only  one  more  could  be  found  ;  but  this  one  was 
preserved  in  spirits  of  wine,  together  with  two  or  three  of  the 
tiny  slow-worms.  The  female  that  conjecturally  laid  them 
had  frequently  got  out  of  the  box  and  sustained  many  falls 
to   the   floor ;   which,  even    had    other   circumstances   been 

propitious,  might  sufficiently  account  for  the  destruction  of 

2   G 

466  SNAKES. 

embryo  life.  But  in  addition  to  accidents  were  the  extremely 
cold  and  sunless  summer  and  the  ten  weeks  of  disturbed  and 
comfortless  existence  ;  and  then  the  green  lizard  was  for  ever 
scrambling  about  and  scratching  the  earth  in  all  directions. 
He  alone  was  enough  to  make  a  conglomerate  of  the 
unmatured  eggs. 

The  remaining  one  of  the  supposed  eggs  was  put  aside 
with  other  specimens,  and  almost  forgotten  till  the  present 
time.  Looking  at  it  now  after  it  has  been  two  years  in  the 
spirits  of  wine,  I  find  the  sandy  surface  washed  off  and 
deposited  as  sediment,  and  in  a  partly  torn  and  ruptured 
membrane  behold  a  perfect  little  Anguis  fragilis  quite  as  big 
as  those  others  which  were  hatched.  Whether  this  happens 
to  be  a  more  perfect  embryo  than  those  that  were  hardened, 
or  whether  it  has  grown  softer  and  more  distinguishable 
through  being  in  liquid,  it  is  impossible  to  say,  except  that 
here  it  is.  There  were,  then,  two  broods,  as  had  been 
anticipated,  and  in  both  cases  eight  or  nine.  The  precise 
date  of  the  hard  eggs  is  not  clear  ;  probably  they  were 
produced  first.  The  warmth  of  the  room  at  length  did  for 
Blackie  what  the  sun  had  failed  to  do  ;  and  even  then  her 
young  ones  were  not  fully  matured.  The  other  one,  through 
many  vicissitudes,  in  common  with  her  big  cousin  Anaconda, 
produced  bad  eggs.  Truly  are  not  these  two — or  say  only 
one — is  not  Blackie's  case  a  verification  of  what  the  author  of 
British  Reptiles  affirmed  of  these  slow-worms  :  *  There  is  no 
doubt  that  the  duration  of  the  period  of  gestation  must 
depend  on  the  temperature  to  which  the  animal  is  exposed,' 
even  if  this  be  not  another  instance  of  retarded  deposition. 

A  word  more,  in  conclusion,  about  the  tiny  progeny. 


To  the  touch  having  no  more  bone  or  substance  than  an 
earth-worm  of  the  same  size,  their  abihty  to  burrow  seemed 
marvellous.  When  placed  in  the  sunshine — such  as  there 
was  of  it — they  basked  in  apparent  satisfaction,  retiring 
betimes  and  working  themselves  underground  to  the  depth 
of  four  or  five  inches.  Often  two  or  more  were  missing, 
when  every  scrap  of  earth  and  moss  had  to  be  spread  on 
a  newspaper  and  minutely  separated  to  search  for  them. 
Indeed,  I  have  never  felt  certain  whether  the  family 
originally  consisted  of  eight,  nine,  or  ten,  having  a  strong 
suspicion  that  their  grown-up  relatives  or  the  lizard  had 
supposed  them  to  be  worms  placed  there  for  their  express 
delectation.  And  when,  one  day,  the  number  was  reduced 
to  six,  and  the  green  lizard  looked  unusually  plump  and 
impudent,  the  young  fry  were  quickly  transferred  to  a  sepa- 
rate home,  a  glass  bowl,  through  which  they  could  be  watched 
without  molestation,  and  up  which  they  could  not  possibly 
crawl.  The  smallest  of  worms  (the  weather  being  warm  again) 
and  a  cockle-shell  of  water,  the  softest  of  sand  and  the  prettiest 
of  mosses,  ministered  to  their  comfort ;  but  though  they  grew 
very  slightly  and  their  colour  became  more  defined,  I  do  not 
think  they  partook  of  food  or  water  during  the  whole  six 
weeks  that  they  were  thus  watched  and  cared  for.  One 
from  the  first  day  was  always  livelier  than  the  rest.  It  was 
one  of  those  that  had  been  hatched  first  or  possibly  born 
alive,  being  perfect,  and  with  the  navel  closed  when  I  had 
first  discovered  it.  Through  the  glass  we  could  see  them 
deep  down  in  the  earth,  and  so  close  to  the  side  that  they 
could  nearly  always  be  easily  counted.  Not  at  all  sociable 
were  the  little  ones,  one  here,  another  there,  as  if  getting  as 

468  SNAKES. 

far  apart  as  their  home  permitted.  In  the  evening,  if  placed 
on  the  table  near  the  lamp,  they  seemed  to  mistake  that  for 
sunlight,  and  would  come  up  and  ramble  restlessly  about  on 
the  surface  for  several  hours.     Their  vitality  was  amazing. 

One  evening  when  showing  them  to  a  friend  and  permit- 
ting their  antics  upon  the  table,  one  of  them  was  suddenly 
and  mysteriously  missing.  We  had  carefully  guarded  the 
edge  of  the  table ;  indeed,  they  were  well  in  the  centre  of  it, 
and  it  seemed  impossible  for  them  to  fall  off.  We  searched 
the  carpet,  notwithstanding,  and  with  most  careful  scrutiny  ; 
and  finally  deciding  that  the  truant  must  have  been  replaced 
with  some  moss  unobserved,  gave  up  the  search. 

Next  morning,  on  entering  the  room,  my  maid  thus 
greeted  me  :  '  Lor',  Ma'am  !  if  I  didn't  find  one  of  your  little 
snakes  down  on  the  carpet  close  to  your  chair,  and  for  all 
the  world  I  as  near  as  possible  tramped  on  it.  I  put  it  in 
along  with   the  others,  and  It  worked  its  way  down  In   no 


Imagine  that  poor  little  shred  of  life  passing  the  night  In 
frantic  efforts  to  burrow  Into  the  carpet  and  retire  below 
according  to  custom  !  Whenever  held  or  touched,  their  first 
Impulse  was  to  conceal  themselves  beneath,  and  they  would 
dive  and  butt  with  impetuous  agitation  In  their  endeavours 
to  push  themselves  out  of  sight. 

The  event  in  the  family  had  caused  me  to  postpone  the 
hibernating  arrangements  ;  so  as  long  as  the  others  ate  (a 
thaw  enabling  us  to  dig  up  worms  again)  and  courted  day- 
light, I  kept  them  in  the  warm  room.  But  as  will  be 
remembered,  very  severe  frost  set  in  that  winter  (1879-80), 
and  no  more  worms  could  be  dug  up.     While  hibernating. 



no  pangs  of  hunger  could  assail  them  ;  and  though  it  cost  me 
an  effort  to  consign  those  beautiful  wee  things  to  the  cold 
and  gloom  of  a  temporary  tomb,  yet  it  seemed  the  kindest 
thing  to  do  under  the  circumstances  ;  so,  in  company  with 
their  unsympathizing  mother  and  cousins,  they  were  stowed 
away  in  moss  and  darkness,  but  in  a  box  instead  of  the  jar. 
Well ! — that  is  all !  My  ignorance  and  its  sad  results  were 
alluded  to  on  p.  165.  I  can  only  hope  the  poor  little 
victims  died  insensible  to  their  cruel  fate. 



THIS    tame    slow-worm    was   promised    a    chapter   to 
herself  in  my  book,  and  I  trust  my  readers  will  not 
tire  of  her  doings,  but  vouchsafe  their  kind  attention  to  an 
exhibition  of  still   other   feats    in  which  the   little   Angttis 
fragilis  vies  with  the  Great  Anaconda. 

In  her  maternal  aspect  we  have  done  with  her.  The 
heroine  of  the  present  chapter  was  for  a  much  longer  time 
in  my  possession  than  *  Blackie '  and  those  other  poor 
victims,  and  therefore  tamer.  When  my  friends  exclaimed, 
*  Why  on  earth  do  you  call  that  little  snake  "  Lizzie  "  } '  the 
simple  reply  was  :  '  Because  she  is  not  a  snake,  but  a  lizard.' 
In  what  respects  the  slow-worm  is  a  lizard  my  readers 
already  know  ;  I  will  therefore  describe  what  I  hope  may 
prove  of  zoological  interest.  Already  'Lizzie'  has  ingratiated 
herself  with  the  readers  of  Aunt  Judy  s  Magazine,^  as  also 
with  her  personal  acquaintance  for  her  gentle  and  innocent 

*  Wrongly  named  ;  or,  Poor  Little  Lizzie,'  by  Catherine  C.  Hopley.     June  iSSo. 


'lizzie:  471 

First  let  us  briefly  review  her  many  wrong  names,  'blind- 
worm/  '  slow-worm,'  *  deaf-adder,'  '  brittle-snake/  and 
endeavour  to  account  for  them.  Of  her  name  '  snake ' 
{Ang2iis),  from  its  external  aspect,  enough  has  already  been 
said.  The  '  brittleness  '  shared  in  common  with  several  of  her 
foreign  relatives,  known  as  'glass  snakes,'  proceeds  from  a 
power  of  contracting  the  muscles  into  rigidity  when  molested: 
that  is,  when,  on  finding  themselves  in  a  helpless  condition, 
slew-worms  grasp  firmly  whatever  they  can  attach  themselves 
to.  In  fact,  this  little  snake  only  displays  constricting 
powers  as  far  as  it  is  able  ;  for  it  really  does  constrict  the 
fingers  which  detain  it,  with  a  force  as  great  for  its  size  as  its 
cousin  Anaconda  uses  in  killing  its  prey.  Were  the  giant 
constrictors  to  entwine  us  with  proportionate  power,  they 
would  gain  the  day.  In  the  case  of  Anguis  fragilis,  zve  are 
the  masters ;  and  were  we  to  attempt  violently  to  unwind 
one  from  our  fingers,  it  would  break  '  in  halves '  in  its 
resistance,  or  rather  in  its  redoubled  efforts  to  cling  the 
tighter  and  so  save  itself.  May  it  not  in  this  respect,  also, 
claim  kinship  with  its  giant  rivals,  and  show  their  common 
ancestry.^  On  pp.  183  and  187  reference  was  made  to  the 
*  blind-worm  '  in  connection  with  other  *  brittle  '  snakes,  and 
in  the  use  of  their  pointed  tails.  Our  native  '  blind-worm,' 
in  not  having  the  hard  point  at  the  end,  has  escaped  the  im- 
putation of  trying  to  '  sting '  with  that  imaginary  weapon, 
although  it  uses  its  tail  with  equal  and  similar  force,  and  for 
the  same  purpose.  In  handling  the  little  reptile,  you  will 
feel  it  pressing  the  tip  of  its  tail  against  whatever  part  comes 
in  contact  with  it,  as  a  hold,  a  fulcrum,  and  motive  power. 
Upon  a  smooth  surface  it  would  be  entirely  helpless  without 



this  assistant  to  progression,  its  scales  being  too  even  and 
polished  to  afford  hold  of  any  kind.  You  will  see  it 
sweeping  its  long  tail  this  way  and 
that,  in  search  of  some  hold  or  ob- 
stacle against  which  to  push  itself 
forward  ;  and  failing  this,  the  point 
is  pressed  close  to  the  table  or  floor 
as  may  be.  When  in  any  unaccus- 
tomed position,  as,  for  instance,  when 
held  in  the  hand,  you  will  see  the 
tail  instantly  twining  itself  about 
the  fingers  for  safety,  the  creature 
trusting  itself  entirely  to  its  aid,  and 
being  helpless  when  its  movements 
are  fettered  in  any  way.  If  not 
strictly  prehensile  in  the  way  of 
affording  support,  as  the  tail  of  a 
true  boa  does,  that  oi  Angiiis  fragilis 
is  not  far  removed  from  it.  Hold 
one  that  is  accustomed  to  be  handled 
and  in  good  health,  and  permit  it  to 
hang  by  the  mere  tip,  as  in  the 
accompanying  illustration.  So  far 
from  falling,  the  little  creature  will 
at  once  draw  itself  upwards  and 
backwards  with  perfect  facility,  till 
it  feels  itself  equally  balanced,  when 
the  tail  will  be  sent  in  search  of 
hold  ;  it  will  cling  quickly  round  a 
finger,  and  then  Aiiguis  feels   itself  safe  once  more.     My 

Lizzie  ;  never  at  a  loss. 

'lizzie:  473 

tame  slow-worms  accomplished  this  with  perfect  ease  when- 
ever so  suspended. 

Others,  unaccustomed  to  such  a  position,  or  in  a  not  very 
robust  condition,  must  be  treated  cautiously  under  this 
experiment,  and  not  permitted  to  fall  ;  but  in  every  case  the 
tail  will  be  seen  to  be  a  very  important  agent  to  the  reptile. 
It  is  longer  in  the  male  than  in  the  female  slow-worm — more 
than  half  the  entire  length  in  the  former,  and  less  than  half 
in  the  latter.  The  males  are,  therefore,  longer  on  the  whole, 
though  the  body  itself  is  longest  in  the  female.  Regard 
should  be  had  to  this,  when,  roughly  speaking,  they  are  said 
to  'break  themselves  in  halves ;  '  because  it  is  not  the  body 
which  breaks,  but  only  the  tail,  or  a  portion  of  it,  in  common 
with  other  lizards. 

The  power  of  the  tail  in  this  reptile  was  again  seen  when 
its  home  was  a  bell-glass,  such  as  is  used  for  gold-fish.  The 
one  in  which  my  first  family  of  slow-worms  dwelt,  was 
almost  as  high  as  their  own  length,  so  that  I  considered 
them  sufficiently  secure  without  any  cover  to  it.  But  after 
a  little  while  they  effected  an  exit.  Hoiu,  was  at  first 
a  mystery,  until  I  saw  them  perseveringly  raising  them- 
selves in  a  perpendicular  direction  against  the  side.  Many 
a  slip  and  many  a  trial  had  they,  but  they  rarely  desisted 
until  success  crowned  their  efforts.  When  their  head  had 
once  gained  the  edge  of  the  glass,  they  easily  drew  them- 
selves up  and  over  it,  and  let  themselves  down  on  the 
outside,  as  you  would  draw  a  cord  over  the  edge.  The 
perfect  smoothness  of  the  glass,  the  nice  balance  required, 
and  the  gradual  lowering  of  themselves,  rendered  this 
proceeding  still  more  astonishing ;  for  as  the  glass  was  on 

474  SNAKES. 

a  stand  there  was  a  considerable  distance  between  the 
edge  and  the  table.  A  slow-worm's  progression  is  truly 
marvellous.  In  this  little  creature  one  can  detect  no  action 
of  the  ribs ;  they  are  too  fine  and  too  close.  Its  scaly 
armour,  moreover,  is  smooth  and  firm  ;  and  as  for  ventral 
scutai  to  '  afford  hold,'  it  has  none.  Yet  with  ease  it  draws 
itself  over  that  polished  rim,  as  it  draws  itself  up  and  over 
your  finger,  v/hen  suspended  by  the  mere  tip  of  its  tail. 

Soon  the  slow-worms  accomplished  this  feat  so  know- 
ingly that  it  became  necessary  to  cover  them  over,  which 
was  done  with  gauze  having  a  strong  elastic  cord  hemmed 
into  it.  They  practised  their  climbing  powers  all  the  same, 
and  though  not  able  to  get  over  the  edge,  tried  and  pushed 
hard  enough  to  stretch  the  gauze  considerably  ;  so  that, 
unless  well  pulled  down,  it  lay  only  loosely  and  bagging 
over  the  top. 

Judge,  then,  of  my  amazement  one  day  to  find  Lizzie 
outside  the  glass,  resting  contentedly  in  the  loose  fold  round 
the  edge  above  the  elastic.  The  little  creature  had  absolutely 
got  over  the  edge,  but  the  tightness  of  the  elastic  baffling 
the  outside  descent,  there  it  lay. 

In  N'ature,  vol.  xx.  p.  529,  Mr.  Hutchinson  describes  and 
illustrates  an  exactly  similar  feat  accomplished  by  a  '  little 
snake '  nine  inches  long.  It  was  put  in  a  glass  jar  ten  inches 
high,  having  also  for  a  cover  a  bit  of  coarse  muslin  secured 
by  an  elastic  band.  The  reptile  was  missing,  the  muslin  and 
the  band  were  intact,  when,  after  a  mysterious  surprise  and 
search,  the  little  snake  was  found  under  the  rim  of  the  jar 
inside  the  muslin.  The  writer  does  not  say  what  snake 
it   was,  but  he   afterwards  observed    it   'ascending   easily,' 

'lizzie:  475 

standing  on  the  tip  of  its  tail,  and  supporting  itself  against 
the  side  of  the  jar  by  the  abdominal  scales  creating  a 
vacuum,  Mike  the  pedal  scales  of  a  common  house  lizard;' 
it  was  not  a  slow-worm,  therefore.  He  felt  quite  satisfied 
about  this  adaptation  of  the  scutae,  a  mode  which,  in  de- 
scribing the  larger  snakes  climbing  up  their  glass  cages,  I 
called  'compressure,'  p.  215.  Mr.  Hutchinson  does  not  tell 
us,  either,  how  much  earth  or  rubbish  covered  the  floor  of 
the  jar,  though  there  must  have  been  an  inch  or  more,  to 
enable  a  snake  of  nine  inches  to  raise  its  head  over  a  ledge 
ten  inches  high.  Lizzie  not  having  ventral  scales  to  help 
her,  used  her  tail  only  as  a  support,  then  nicely  maintaining 
the  perpendicular.  Many  times  she  failed  in  achieving 
success,  but  she  did  achieve  it,  and  grew  so  enterprising  in 
consequence  that  I  shall  now  confine  my  story  to  her.  At 
first  she  lived  in  a  box,  the  top  of  which  she  could  easily 
look  over,  and  she  was  occasionally  permitted  to  get  out 
and  ramble  amon^:  some  ferns  on  the  same  table.  Some- 
times  this  box  was  also  covered  v/ith  a  muslin,  having  elastic 
hemmed  into  it,  and  she  soon  discovered  that  this  with 
persevering  attempts  could  be  raised.  The  use  of  the  tail 
was  here  remarkable.  With  it  she  maintained  her  '  stand,' 
so  to  speak,  while  with  her  head  and  the  forepart  of  her 
body  she  tried  to  loosen  the  net ;  using  persistent  and 
powerful  efforts  to  lift  it,  by  repeatedly  tossing  back  her 
head.  She  acted  in  every  way  as  if  determined  not  to  be 
baffled,  and  with  an  apparent  intention  or  reflection  that 
was,  without  doubt,  the  result  of  experience.  In  higher 
creatures  this  application  of  force  to  produce  a  certain  result 
would  be  pronounced  'intelligence.'     In  the  little  slow-worm 

476  SNAKES. 

there  was  undeniably  a  perception  of  cause  and  effect. 
On  one  occasion  when  she  had  got  her  tail  on  the  edge 
of  the  box,  and  her  whole  length  in  the  stretched  muslin 
along  the  top,  she  so  far  succeeded  with  the  forcible  action 
of  the  head  that  she  worked  the  very  strong  and  tight 
elastic  up,  but  not  at  all  to  her  own  satisfaction;  for  it 
instantly  contracted  under  her,  bagging  her  most  effectually. 
She  was  caught  in  a  trap  of  her  own  construction. 

Seeing  her  so  wonderfully  energetic,  and  by  no  means 
'  slow,'  either  in  action  or  intelligence,  the  next  thing  was 
to  ascertain  whether  Lizzie  was 'deaf  in  addition  to  her 
other  pseudo-failings ;  but  by  the  various  tests  used  to 
exercise  her  aural  faculties,  I  am  inclined  to  think  her  powers 
of  hearing  served  her  almost  better  than  those  of  sight. 
When  permitted  to  ramble  among  the  plants  and  over 
the  table,  the  sound  much  more  than  the  sight  of  her  box 
and  its  contents  attracted  her.  Never  averse  to  go  home 
and  retreat  into  her  moss,  the  rustling  of  this  or  the  scraping 
and  rubbing  the  sides  of  the  box — any  noise  with  it  with 
which  she  was  familiar,  would  cause  her  to  turn  towards  it, 
when  the  sight  of  it  alone  failed  to  entice  her.  After  a 
time  she  turned  her  head,  if  even  from  across  the  room  I 
made  a  sudden  and  sharp  noise  to  attract  her  attention, — 
such  as  the  tapping  of  a  spoon  against  a  cup,  or  the  peculiar 
talk  I  indulged  in  for  educational  purposes.  She  undoubt- 
edly became  familiar  with  certain  sounds,  which  were 
repeated  till  she  did  look  round.  Not — as  I  am  bound  to 
confess — that  it  was  a  strikingly  intelligent  look !  rather 
the  contrary,  I  fear  :  still,  as  the  object  was  to  test  her 
powers  of  hearing,  the  result  was  satisfactory.     The  origin 

'LIZZIE:  477 

of  this  reputed  deafness  Is  difficult  to  conjecture.  In  the 
way  of  external  ears,  those  of  the  slow-worm  are  less  dis- 
tinct than  those  of  lizards  generally,  but  more  so  than  in 
snakes,  which  have  no  visible  aural  apertures  ;  whereas  in 
the  slow-worms  they  can  be  discerned  if  sought  for,  though 
they  are  very  small  and  indistinct. 

Not  much  less  perplexing  is  the  supposititious  '  blindness  ' 
of  the  slow-worm.  This  must  have  had  its  origin  in  days 
long  before  *  gentle-folk '  took  rural  walks  for  the  purpose 
of  observing  natural  objects ;  long  before  Shakspeare's 
time,  and  when  slow-worms  were  far  more  numerous  than 
now.  Probably  those  who  saw  most  of  them  were  the 
peasantry,  and  that  in  winter  time,  when,  in  their  out-door 
work,  they  would  discover  a  number  hibernating.  A  score 
or  two  of  slow-worms  in  company  with  a  few  snakes  and 
adders  brought  to  light  In  turning  up  stones  or  earth,  would 
attract  the  rustics,  when  a  stray  one  in  sumrrier  time  would 
pass  unnoticed  or,  at  any  rate,  unexamined.  Though  the 
larger  reptiles  would  be  equally  torpid,  their  eyes  would 
show  all  the  same,  while  the  slow-worm's  eyes  would  be  so 
tightly  closed  that  their  place  could  hardly  be  found.  Thus 
they  were  presumably  *  blind.'  This  is  mere  conjecture  in 
seeking  a  reason,  but  '  blind  worms '  they  were  in  England 
long  before  the  typJdops  (p.  187)  of  the  tropics  was  known, 
and  long  before  any  other  '  naturalist '  than  Topsell  and  his 
like  wrote  upon  *  Serpentes'  and  the  AinpJiisbcena  Eiiropcea. 

Topsell,  by  the  way,  whom  we  quoted  on  the  subject  of 
tongues,  thought  he  knew  all  about  slow-worms,  and  gave 
them  credit  for  a  length  and  power  of  tail  far  exceeding 
those  of  the  present  day.     '  They  have  been  seen  to  suck 

478  SNAKES. 

a  Cow,  for  then  they  twist  their  Tailes  about  the  Cowe's 
Legges.  The  Slow-worm  biteth  mortallie,  and  the  Cow 
dyeth!'  Consistent  this  with  the  'Blind-worm's  sting'  of 
the  poet  of  that  day.  Of  the  six  or  seven  that  have  been 
in  my  keeping  at  one  time  or  another,  not  one  has,  under 
any  provocation,  attempted  to  bite  me.  They  were  handled 
continually,  twirled  about,  and  tied  into  knots  (with  gentle 
treatment,  of  course),  but  not  one  of  them  ever  broke  itself 
in  'halves' or  opened  its  mouth  with  malice  intent.  Lizzie 
sometimes  in  winding  about  my  fingers  got  herself  into 
very  pretty  knots,  and   in  such  tied-up  fashion  when  placed 

Li/Tzie  in  a  knot. 

on  the  table  she  would  remain  motionless  for  a  time,  and 
then  be«"in  to  move  away.  Curious  was  the  effect  at  this 
juncture.  The  knot  was  not  loosened  at  all ;  but  as  the  little 
reptile  began  to  .move,  the  knot  passed  downwards,  and  she 
crawled  out  of  it,  while  its  form  remained  the  same  to  the 
very  end  of  the  tail.  It  was  similar  to  what  we  saw  when 
the  little  four-rayed  snakes  constricted  their  birds  ;  the  form 
of  their  coils  altering  no  more  than  would  a  slide  passed 
alon"-  a  rope.  Neither  did  such  a  knot  disturb  Lizzie.  She 
appeared  quite  unconscious  of  it,  and  simply  crawled  out 
of  it.  Perhaps  any  '  brittleness '  discoverable  may  have  been 
from  rough  handling,  as  one  can  easily  suppose  a  too  abrupt 
untwining  of  the  reptile  when  clinging  round  the  fingers 
would  so  alarm  it  that  it  would  cling  the  tighter.     A  gentle- 

'lizzie:  479 

man  assured  me  that  he  had  seen  one  break  in  'halves,'  and 
the  two  portions  lying  on  the  table.  Not  being  a  scientific 
observer,  he  could  not  describe  the  appearance  of  the 
fractured  part,  except  that  they  seemed  to  contract ;  and 
this  is  what  I  have  observed  in  the  tail  of  lizards  when 
accidentally  abridged.  The  owners  do  not  appear,  however, 
to  concern  themselves  about  it. 

The  name  *worm'  given  to  this  little  reptile  is  merely  as  a 
creeping  thing,  a  'worm  of  the  earth,'  in  common  with  many 
other  small  crawling  creatures  which  are  not  ^'BiX\\\-worms. 
Its  quality  of  'slowness'  is  only  another  name  for  caution. 
Quick  and  active  it  can  be  ;  but  in  retreating  down  among 
the  moss  or  hay,  or  whatever  you  provide  in  its  cage,  then 
you  see  the  perfection  of  slowness.  Not  a  blade  stirs,  not  a 
sound  is  heard,  and  one  may  repeat  here  that  the  manner  of 
progression  in  Anguis  fragilis  is  not  the  least  of  all  the 
ophidian  wonders  we  have  witnessed.  In  the  earth  it  can 
burrow  itself  to  the  depth  of  several  feet.  In  soft  rubbish  it 
simply  vanishes  slowly ;  its  hard,  polished  scales  permitting 
it,  as  it  were,  to  slide  down  into  and  among  the  hay  with 
that  gently  gliding  motion  which  enables  us  to  perceive  how 
very  well  it  docs  manage  without  the  ancestral  limbs. 

One  other  name  it  has,  '  adder,'  which,  perhaps  from 
association  with  the  true  adder  or  viper,  has  gained  it  its 
evil  character  of  being  venomous. 

But  this  word  '  adder,'  like  '  worm,'  was  formerly  used  for 
many  creeping  things,  and  is  derived  from  old  Saxon  and 
Danish  words  atter,  eddre,  cetter,  etc.,  and  the  German  natter, 
which  has  a  similar  signification,  any  low-lying  or  crawling 
creature.     Even  in  this  nineteenth  century  the  'slow-worm' 

48o  SNAKES. 

still  bears  an  evil  character  in  some  rural  districts,  and  in 
Wales  more  particularly. 

A  few  weeks  ago,  a  Welsh  lady,  hearing  me  speak  of  my 
tame  slow-worms,  asked  if  I  were  not  afraid  to  handle 

*  Wliy  ?'  one  naturally  asked. 

*  Because  they  are  so  poisonous,'  she  replied. 

I  explained  that  this  erroneous  idea  had  probably 
originated  in  the  little  creature  being  sometimes  called  an 
*  adder,'  and  so  forth. 

My  friend  did  not  take  the  explanation  kindly,  but  rather 
resented  the  possibility  of  her  being  mistaken.  '  They  are 
so  very  common  in  Wales,'  she  said,  '  and  I  am  sure  they 
are  venomous  there.' 

Another  lady  of  the  company,  subsequently  speaking  of 
this,  remarked,  '  I  should  certainly  be  inclined  to  believe 
what  Miss  F.  says  about  them  (the  slow-worms),  because  she 
lives  so  much  in  the  country  and  is  such  an  observer.' 

This  speaker  was  a  lady  of  really  superior  intellectual 
attainments  ;  but  she  had  never  attempted  to  overcome  a 
strong  prejudice  against  anything  in  the  shape  of  a  snake. 
She  would  not  permit  herself  to  be  convinced  that  any  of  them 
were  either  harmless,  clean,  or  beautiful  ;  but,  like  the  monks 
who  would  not  look  through  Galileo's  telescope,  for  fear  of 
seeing  what  it  was  heresy  to  believe,  my  friend  preferred  to 
hug  her  prejudices ! 

One  little  bit  more  of  gossip  in  taking  leave  of  Lizzie. 
The  party  were  young  gentlemen,  all  of  them  of  studious 
and  intellectual  tastes  and  good  position.  '  How  could  I 
endure  to  touch  those  horrible  slimy  snakes  ? '  one  of  them 

'lizzie:  481 

exclaimed,  on  hearing  a  lady  inquire  about  my  pets.  I 
assured  him  they  were  as  clean  and  dry  as  the  ruler  on 
the  table.  The  young  gentlemen  exchanged  dubious 
glances,  and  nearly  all  of  them  attributed  to  my  undue 
partiality  the  assurance  that  they  were  not  *  slimy.'  '  I 
always  thought  they  were, — didn't  yoii  ? '  they  said  to  each 

A  word  must  be  added  on  the  subject  of  skin-shedding  in 
the  slow-worms,  various  processes  having  been  described  ;  as 
that  it  is  *  always  shed  in  pieces,'  '  always  splits  on  the  head 
first,'  etc.  As  no  tvv'o  of  my  pets  doffed  their  coats  at  regular 
periods,  or  precisely  in  the  same  manner,  I  judged  that,  as  in 
snakes,  the  sloughing  depended  principally  on  the  health  of 
the  individual,  or  the  temperature.  They  all  invariably  began 
at  the  lips,  rubbing  their  heads  till  the  skin  separated  round 
the  mouth  exactly  as  snakes  do,  and  then  crawled  out  of  it. 
In  one  case  the  skin  was  shed  iinreverscd  throughout  the 
entire  length.  This  was  pushed  off  and  left  behind  in  a 
crumpled  form,  but  in  picking  it  up  it  extended  uninjured  to 
its  original  length,  perfect  from  mouth  to  tail.  Others  were 
reversed  as  far  as  the  tail,  which  slipped  out  '  hke  a  sword 
out  of  its  scabbard,'  as  described  by  Mr.  Bell ;  others  were 
reversed  throughout  the  lencjth.  Sometimes  they  were  in 
pieces,  and  this  was,  I  think,  attributable  to  insufficient 
moisture.  One  did  not  change  after  August ;  others 
changed  several  times  during  the  summer;  so  that  there 
appears  to  be  the  same  sort  of  caprice,  or  more  probably 
of  unascertained  causes  for  variable  processes,  in  casting 
the  cuticle  as  in  snakes. 

'  Lizzie's '   bibulous    propensities    were   mentioned    p.    89. 

2    H 

482  SNAKES. 

In  vain  was  she  tempted  with  milk,  but  water  appeared 
to  be  almost  more  necessary  than  food  ;  at  least,  after  being 
deprived  of  both,  she  took  that  first  and  eagerly. 

So  much  has  been  said  of  the    burrowing  habits  of  the 
slow-worms,  that  I  must  mention  a  remarkable  exception. 
Never  did  I  see  mine  ascend,  except   when  attempting   to 
escape ;    nor,  when  placed   among    the    plants  on  a  flow^er- 
stand,    did    they   ever    raise   their    head,    but    would   work 
their   way    downwards,   clinging   and   holding  on   by  their 
tail   till    they  reached    the    floor.     Always  dozvn  was  their 
instinct,  even   down   the  stairs  on  several  occasions ;  never 
up.     But  since  the  completion  of  this  chapter,  some  slow- 
worms    have    been    deposited    at    the    Zoological    Gardens 
that  evince    a   climbing   tendency  ;    and  this  strikes  me  as 
being    so    novel    a   feat    that    I    add   a   line.      The    little 
creatures — one  of  which    is  of  a    pale   flesh-colour,  almost 
white — live  in  a  cage  with  some  tree  frogs,  behind  the  door 
on  entering  the  Reptilium.     Here  they  are,  May  1882,  often 
seen  lodged  in  the  branches  of  the  shrub,  and  reposing  there 
at  ease,  as  if  in  quiet  enjoyment.     The  'white'  one  I  first 
observed  in  the  tree,  and  subsequently  others.     So  frequently 
may  they  be  seen  reposing  in  this  way  among  the  leaves, 
that  to  climb  seems  to  have  become  a  confirmed  habit  or 
taste;    and  in  concluding  the  history  oi  Anguis  fragilis,  I 
record  this  singular  diversity  of  habit  as  one  other  strong 
feature  in  common  with  the  giant  Anaconda. 



THE  question,  *  Do  vipers  swallow  their  young  in  times 
of  danger?'  is  one  less  easy  to  solve  to  the  satis- 
faction of  the  unbelievers  than  some  of  the  preceding 
inquiries,  because  the  proof  demanded  is  an  almost  un- 
attainable one.  '  Bring  me  a  viper  with  its  mouth  tied  up, 
and  all  her  young  ones  in  her  throat,  and  then  I  will  believe 
you,'  say  the  sceptics.  Now,  in  the  first  place,  a  man  does 
not  go  hedging  and  ditching,  or  to  reap  corn,  nor  does  a 
gentleman  go  to  his  field  sports,  or  for  a  country  stroll, 
ready  provided  with  a  cord  and  a  bag  and  an  assistant  for 
the  express  purpose  of  capturing  maternal  vipers,  who  at 
sight  of  him  receive  all  their  little  ones  into  their  mouths  ; 
and,  in  the  second  place,  if  he  did  so,  making  it  the  one 
business  of  his  walk  to  seek  for  and  entrap  such  vipers,  he 
might  spend  a  great  many  summers  in  the  search  before 
his  trouble  was  rewarded.  Even  were  he  so  fortunate,  it  is 
doubtful  whether  he  would  be  believed  by  all  persons  ;  for 

viper-s\vallowing,  like  'the  Great  Sea  Serpent,'  has   been   a 


484  SNAKES. 

subject  so  contemptuously  dismissed  that  investigation  is 
arrested,  and  few  in  England  would  now  risk  their  reputa- 
tion by  committing  their  names  to  print  in  connection  with 
it.  It  is  much  to  be  regretted  that  this  has  of  late  years 
been  the  case  with  several  English  publications  whose 
columns  should  be  open  to  a  fair  examination  of  evidence 
on  all  zoological  questions.  The  influence  of  such  journals, 
therefore,  checks  progress  ;  for  until  prejudice  is  got  rid  of, 
there  can  be  no  advancement  in  any  science. 
-  As  is  well  known,  the  late  Mr.  Frank  Buckland  was  to 
the  last  sceptical  on  this  question.  His  specialty  was  not 
ophiology  ;  but  the  mass  of  readers  do  not  stop  to  inquire 
about  this  ;  and  he,  being  a  popular  writer  as  well  as  a 
popular  character,  was  accredited  by  thousands  who  quoted 
him,  while  themselves  no  naturalists,  nor  in  any  position  to 
form  an  independent  opinion.  Some  contemporary  journals 
unfortunately  display  the  same  prejudices,  even  at  the  time 
of  writing,  causing  zoological  publications,  which  should 
embrace  every  branch  of  biology,  to  be  devoted  almost 
exclusively  to  the  specialties  of  an  editor. 

Happily  this  scepticism  is  not  universal.  In  the  American 
publications  devoted  to  zoology,  information  in  every  branch 
is  welcomed  as  worthy  of  consideration  ;  and  though  truth 
has  often  to  be  sifted  out  from  a  very  gigantic  pile  of 
rubbish,  still  it  is  worth  the  search  ;  and  we  can  but  feel  that 
the  rapid  advance  of  our  Transatlantic  relatives  in  every 
branch  of  science  is  due,  in  a  great  measure,  to  the  dismissal 
of  prejudice  and  to  the  encouragement  of  every  new  idea. 

So   far  as   snakes  are   concerned,  their  field   is  wide,  it  is 
true.     In  England  our  observations  are  limited  to  our  one 


viper,  whereas  America  is  the  land  of  snakes,  no  less  than 
are  India  and  Australia  ;  and  while  our  native  viper  is  grow- 
ing rarer  every  year,  the  opportunities  for  observation  in 
the  Western  World  are  wherever  a  new  settlement  is 

Thus,  when,  in  February  1873,  Professor  G.  Browne  Goode, 
of  Middletown  University,  Connecticut,  invited,  through  the 
columns  of  the  American  Agriculturist,  all  the  authentic 
information  that  could  be  procured  on  the  question,  'Do 
snakes  swallow  their  young  ?'  he  received,  as  he  tells  us, 
no  less  than  120  testimonies  from  as  many  persons  in 
various  parts  of  the  United  States  that  single  season. 

The  area  in  which  information  was  collected  included 
twenty-four  States  and  counties,  '  almost  all  the  evidence 
being  valuable.' 

Professor  Goode  was  intending  to  bring  the  subject  before 
the  Aviericafi  Association  for  the  Advancement  of  Science^  to 
convene  at  Portland,  Maine,  the  following  August  ;  and  he 
spent  the  summer  in  collecting  information. 

At  that  session  of  1873,  in  the  Biological  Section  of  the 
Association,  *  A  Science  Convention  on  Snakes'  was  held, 
and  a  paper  was  read  by  Professor  G.  Browne  Goode,  the 
subject  offered  for  discussion  being — 'Do  snakes  offer  a 
temporary  refuge  for  tJieir  young  in  tJieir  throats,  whence  they 
emerge  when  tJie  danger  is  past  f  On  this  occasion  the  chair 
was  occupied  by  Mr.  F.  W.  Putnam,  one  of  the  editors  of 
the  American  Naturalist,  and  secretary  to  the  Association. 
Professor  Joseph  Lovering  was  the  new  President  on 
Professor  Lawrence  Smith's  retiring  ;  and  among  those  who 
took  part  in  the  discussion  were  several  eminent  naturalists 

486  SNAKES. 

New  York  and  other  journals  published  reports  of  the 
Convention  at  the  time ;  and  the  entire  paper  by  Professor 
Goode  was  given  to  the  world  in  the  Annual  Reports  of 
the  American  Association. 

From  these  I  will  condense  the  principal  matter,  quoting 
also  from  a  paper  on  the  same  subject  written  by  F.  W. 
Putnam  in  vol.  ii.  of  the  American  Naturalist  for  1869. 
Indeed,  the  two  accounts  are  so  blended  that  I  can  only 
recommend  both  to  the  perusal  of  the  interested  reader, 
Professor  Goode  having  reproduced  much  from  Putnam's 
paper  in  the  American  Naturalist,  which,  as  he  informs  us, 
was  the  first  that  led  him  to  take  an  interest  in  the  subject. 

He  began  by  reminding  his  audience  that  it  had  long  been 
a  popular  belief  that  the  young  of  certain  snakes  seek  a 
temporary  protection  from  danger  by  gliding  down  the  open 
throat  of  the  mother,  though  it  had  been  of  late  doubted  by 
so  many  naturalists  as  to  be  classed  among  the  superstitions; 
but  that  now  a  summing  up  of  the  evidence  would  show 
conclusively  that  the  popular  idea  is  sustained  by  facts. 

The  traditions  of  the  North  American  Indians  show  that 
the  belief  has  prevailed  with  them  from  prehistoric  times.  In 
England  also,  as  he  reminded  us,  as  early  as  the  sixteenth 
century,  allusions  to  it  are  found  in  Spencer's  Faerie  Qiieene^ 
1590,  Canto  I.  vv.  14,  15,  22,  25.  From  this  a  word  or  two 
only  need  be  quoted  regarding  the 

'  Half  serpent,  half  woman,' 


'  One  thousand  young  ones  sucking  upon  her  poison  dugs,' 

when  she  is  disturbed  in  her  dark  cave  ; 

'  Soon  as  that  uncouth  light  upon  them  shone, 
Into  her  mouth  they  crept,  and  suddaine  all  were  gone.' 


Again,  in  Sir  Thomas  Browne's  Psendoxia,  or  '  Vulgar 
Errours,  published  in  1672,  we  find  :  '  For  the  young  ones 
will  upon  any  fright,  for  protection  run  into  the  belly  of  the 
Dam.  For  then  the  old  one  receives  them  into  her  mouth, 
which  way,  the  fright  being  passed,  they  will  returne  againe  ; 
which  is  a  peculiar  way  of  refuge.' 

He  quotes  from  the  Humorous  Lieutenant  of  Beaumont 
and  Fletcher  the  words,  '  This  is  the  old  viper,  and  all  the 
young  ones  creep  every  night  into  her  belly.' 

The  Professor  also  mentioned  the  American  traveller,  ]\Ir. 
Jonathan  Carver,  who,  towards  the  end  of  the  last  century, 
recorded  that  he  had  seen  a  large  brood  of  young  rattle- 
snakes retire  for  safety  into  the  throat  of  the  parent, 
which  he  killed,  when  no  less  than  seventy  young  ones 
made  their  escape.  Practical  experience  demands.  How 
had  he  time  to  reckon  up  these  active,  wriggling,  tangled 
fugitives }  Nevertheless  his  story  found  favour  and  has  been 
subsequently  recited  as  probable.  Chateaubriand  believed 
the  fact,  and  glowingly  expatiates  on  the  '  Superb  Reptile 
which  preseats  to  man  a  pattern  of  tenderness.'  ...  *  When 
her  offspring  are  pursued,  she  receives  them  into  her  mouth  : 
dissatisfied  with  every  other  place  of  concealment,  she  hides 
them  within  herself,  concluding  that  no  asylum  can  be 
safer  for  her  progeny  than  the  bosom  of  a  mother.  A 
perfect  example  of  sublime  love,  she  refuses  to  survive  the 
loss  of  her  young,  for  it  is  impossible  to  deprive  her  of  them 
without  tearing  out  her  entrails.'  Elsewhere,  with  less  of 
admiration  for  the  exemplary  crotalus,  Chateaubriand  says, 
'  By  a  singular  faculty  the  female  can  introduce  into  her 
body  the  little  monsters  to  which  she  has  given  birth.' 

488  SNAKES. 

One  of  the  early  writers  who  witnessed  this  offer  of  refuge 
was  M.  de  Beauvoir,  who  saw  a  disturbed  rattlesnake 
open  her  jaws  to  receive  five  young  ones.  This  amazed 
spectator  retired  to  quietly  watch  the  result,  when,  after  the 
lapse  of  some  minutes,  the  mother  snake  recovered  con- 
fidence, and  she  again  opened  her  mouth  and  'discharged' 
her  little  family.  Professor  Palisot  de  Beauvoir  was  an 
eminent  French  naturalist  of  the  beginning  of  this  century, 
and  the  author  of  Observations  siir  les  serpents,  published 
in  Daudin's  Histoire  natiirelle,  Paris,  1803.  ^^  was 
accepted  as  an  authority  on  many  other  points  of  natural 
history;  and  it  is  not  improbable  that  he  influenced 
Cuvier's  belief  in  the  ophidian  maternal  refuge. 

It  certainly  does  seem  incredible  that  an  occurrence  so 
unprecedented  should  have  been  conceived  of  in  the  first 
instance  without  some  ocular  demonstration  of  it. 

Another  American  traveller,  whose  testimony  Professor 
Goode  considered  of  worth,  was  St.  John  Dunn  Hunter,^ 
who  saw  young  ones  rush  into  the  rattlesnake's  mouth,  and 
re-appear  when  '  the  parent  gave  a  sort  of  contractile  motion 
of  the  throat  as  a  sign  that  danger  was  past.' 

Coming  down  to  our  own  times,  Professor  Goode 
mentioned  Dr.  Edward  Palmer,  of  the  Smithsonian  Institute 
of  Washington,  a  well-known  traveller  and  collector,  who  in 
Paraguay  saw  seven  young  crotali  run  into  their  mother's 
mouth.  After  the  snake  was  killed,  they  all  ran  out.  The 
parent  and  her  brood  are  now  in  the  National  Museum  at 
Washington,  D.C.  Similar  occurrences  were  witnessed  by 
Professor    Sydney    J.    Smith,    of  Yale    College ;    the    Rev. 

'   Memoirs  of  Captivity  among  the  Indians.     London,  I S23. 


Chauncey  Loomis,  M.D.,  of  Middletown  University ;  Dr. 
D.  L.  Phares ;  Mr.  Thomas  Meham  of  Philadelphia ;  a 
member    of    the    Convention     then     present ;     and     other 

*  gentlemen  whose  statements  as  naturalists  were  not  to 
be  doubted.'  *  Due  weight  should  be  given  to  the  wide 
distribution  of  the  witnesses  and  the  remarkable  concurrence 
of  their  statements/  said  the  speaker. 

Professors  Wyman  and  Gill,  and  other  physiologists  then 
present,  showed  that  there  is  no  physical  reason  why  young 
snakes  should  not  remain  for  a  time  in  the  body  of  the 
mother.  The  gastric  juice  acts  slowly  on  living  tissues,  and 
as  for  respiration,  it  is  almost  impossible  to  smother  reptiles. 

*  Snakes  can  live  for  a  long  time  immersed  in  water,  and  even 
in  bottles  hermetically  sealed,  and  why  not  in  a  place  of 
refuge  ? '  argued  Mr.  Putnam.  Instances  were  given  of  frogs 
escaping  from  the  stomach  of  snakes  ;  also  of  other  snakes 
swallowed  by  a  larger  species  returning  to  the  light  of  day. 

As  a  habit,  if  the  swallowing  '  is  not  protective  there 
is  no  parallel ;  if  protective,  a  similar  habit  is  seen  in  some 
fishes  of  the  South  American  waters,  of  the  genera  Arius, 
Bagrus,  and  Gcophagus,  where  the  males  carry  the  eggs 
for  safety  in  their  mouths  and  gill  openings.'  Mr.  Putnam 
instanced  the  Pipe-fish  {SyngnatJiiis  Peckianus),  whose 
young  when  in  an  aquarium  have  been  seen  to  go  in 
and  out  of  the  pouch  of  the  male  fish  ;  and  that  a  belief 
prevails  some  sailors  that  young  sharks  which 
suddenly  disappear  have  gone  into  the  mouth  of  the  mother. 
Some  South  American  fishes  carry  their  eggs  in  their 
mouth,  and  why  should  there  not  exist  an  equally  motherly 
regard  on  the  part  of  snakes  ? 

490  SNAKES. 

Mr.  F.  W.  Putnam,  secretary  to  the  Association,  had 
made  himself  acquainted  with  all  the  English  'viper- 
swallowing  '  literature  of  any  importance  up  to  the  date 
of  his  paper  on  the  subject  in  the  American  Naturalist, 
1869.  Previous  to  that  date.  Science  Gossips  the  Field, 
the  Zoologist^  and  other  English  journals  had  devoted 
more  space  to  the  subject  than  subsequently ;  and  from 
these  Mr.  Putnam  cited  many  records  from  intelligent 
observers,  in  proof  '  that  snakes  do  afford  refuge  to  their 
youiig.^  Of  especial  importance,  as  corroborative  evidence, 
were  the  statements  and  anatomical  investigations  of  Dr. 
Edward es  Crispe,  F.Z.S.,  etc.,  who  had  for  a  long  while  been 
studying  the  physiological  possibility  of  such  a  retreat.  On 
the  question,  Would  not  the  young  snakes  be  rapidly 
digested  in  the  stomach  of  the  parent.''  this  anatomist 
showed  that  they  would  not  come  in  contact  with  the  gastric 
juice  at  all,  and  that  there  is  ample  room  in  the  expansile 
oesophagus  to  receive  them.  He  had  made  experiments 
with  various  snakes  by  filling  the  stomach  with  water,  in 
order  to  ascertain  its  capacity  in  bulk.  In  1855,  Dr.  E. 
Crispe  had  read  a  paper  on  this  subject  at  one  of  the 
meetings  of  the  Zoological  Society,  and  again  in  1862,  when 
his  previous  opinions  had  become  confirmed.  He  had 
'positive  evidence  enabling  him  to  state  with  certainty  that 
the  English  viper  and  some  other  venomous  snakes  do 
swallow  their  young  at  an  early  period.' 

Towards  the  end  of  the  last  century,  Gilbert  White,  in  his 
History  of  Selborne,  refers  to  the  prevalent  theory,  and  the 
instances  recorded  by  him  are  by  the  earlier  editors  of  his 
works  regarded  rather  as  evidence  than  the  contrary.     In 


the  edition  of  1851,  the  editor  Jesse,  himself  a  naturalist, 
took  pains  to  ascertain  facts  concerning  vipers,  and  he 
believed  in  the  evidence  given  him.  He  had  found  vipers  in 
their  mother's  'stomach'  (he  does  not  say  oviduct)  'of  a 
much  larger  size  (seven  inches)  than  they  would  be  when 
first  excluded.' 

(In  the  later  editions  of  the  History  of  Selborne,  it  is  much 
to  be  regretted  that  doubts  are  again  thrown  on  the  subject  ; 
and  this  in  face  of  the  opinions  of  men  of  eminence,  who 
had  written  from  observation,  and  had  physiologically  shown 
the  possibility  of  such  a  refuge.) 

Mr.  Putnam  also  quoted  Mr.  M.  C.  Cooke,  the  author  of 
Our  Reptiles,  and  at  that  time  editor  of  Science  Gossip, 
Here  is  a  herpetologist  well  able  to  form  an  unbiassed 
opinion,  and  who  in  his  work  says  on  this  question  :  *  Men 
of  science  and  repute,  clergymen,  naturalists,  in  common 
with  those  who  make  no  profession  of  learning,  have 
combined  in  this  belief.  Add  to  these,  gentlemen  whose 
statements  in  other  branches  of  natural  history  would  not  be 
doubted.'  Among  them  were  Henry  Doubleday,  Esq.  of 
Epping,  a  well-knov/n  entomologist ;  the  Rev.  H.  Bond,  of 
South  Pellerton,  Somerset ;  T.  H.  Gurney,  of  Calton  Hall, 
Norwich,  a  well-known  ornithologist ;  and  several  others  of 
similar  scientific  standing. 

Curiously,  no  one  appears  to  doubt  a  similar  maternal 
instinct  as  displayed  in  our  little  native  lizard,  Zootica 
vivipara !  Mr.  Doubleday  related  the  case  of  one  being 
accidentally  trodden  upon,  when  three  young  ones  ran  out  of 
her  mouth.  It  was  immediately  killed  and  opened,  and  two 
others  that  had  been  too  much  injured  by  the  foot  to  make 

492  SNAKES. 

their  escape  were  still  within  the  parent.  At  the  time  when 
a  controversy  on  the  viper  question  was  going  on,  Mr. 
Edward  Newman  edited  the  Zoologist,  and  he  himself 
related  a  most  confirmatory  case  of  this  viviparous  lizard. 
A  gentleman  who  was  collecting,  caught  one  with  two  young 
ones  ;  all  three  were  consigned  to  his  pocket  vasadum.  On 
reaching  home  the  two  young  ones  had  disappeared,  and  the 
mother  looked  in  such  goodly  condition  that  he  thought  she 
must  have  made  a  meal  of  her  offspring.  Next  morning, 
behold  !  there  were  the  two  little  ones  and  their  devoted 
parent  all  safe  and  sound.  She  had  sheltered  them  within 
her  body  !  And,  as  Mr.  Newman  added,  '  the  narrators  are 
of  that  class  who  do  know  what  to  observe  and  hovv'  to 
observe  it.' 

In  May  1865  a  clergyman  in  Norfolk  communicated  to 
Science  Gossip  that  he  had  seen  six  or  seven  young  vipers 
run  helter-skelter  down  their  mother's  throat.  He  killed 
the  parent  and  '  out  came  the  little  ones.'  In  July  another 
correspondent  of  the  same  paper  saw  several  young  vipers 
vanish  in  a  like  manner,  adding,  '  By  the  way  the  mother 
opened  her  mouth  to  receive  them,  he  would  say  they  were 
accustomed  to  that  sort  of  thing.'  Mr.  J.  H.  Gurney 
recorded  that  a  viper  with  young  ones  was  disturbed,  when 
two  of  the  latter  ran  into  her  open  mouth,  the  second  one 
after  getting  half  in  wriggling  out  again.  The  viper  was  cut 
open  to  seek  a  reason  for  this,  when  a  recently  swallowed 
mouse  was  found  stopping  up  the  way.  The  first  had 
managed  to  get  into  safe  quarters,  but  the  second  could  not 

In   Oct.    1 866  the  question  was  revived  by  Mr.  Thomas 

DO  SNAKES  REFUGE  THEIR   YOUNG  1         493 

Rider,  who  wrote  to  the  Field  newspaper  that  on  September 
2 1st  he  had  seen  a  number  of  little  vipers  about  three  inches 
long  run  down  their  mother's  throat.  His  account  was 
followed  by  a  number  of  letters  from  various  persons,  who 
very  lamely  tried  to  convince  him  that  his  eyes  had  deceived 
him  ;  that  what  he  had  seen  was  the  wri^cflincr  toneue,  and 


a  good  deal  more  of  such  feeble  talk,  which  Mr.  Rider  took 
in  gentlemanly  good-humour.  He  further  described  that  at 
first  he  clearly  saw  the  young  ones  at  a  distance  from  the 
parent ;  that,  the  latter  being  killed,  the  young  were  found 
witJiiii  her  ;  that  in  carrying  her,  two  of  them  had  fallen  out 
of  her  ino2Lth  ;  that  he  felt  quite  sure  that  what  he  stated  was 
correct.  His  description  was  so  graphic  and  evidently 
truthful  that  the  distinguished  naturalist  Thomas  Bell  wrote 
also  to  the  Field  to  express  his  great  satisfaction  at  so 
authentic  an  account,  confirming  his  own  previous 
impressions.  *I  did  not  doubt  the  fact  before,'  he  said, 
in  the  i^/^/^/ of  October  27th,  1866,  'but  such  an  attestation 
as  this  from  such  an  authority'  (an  educated  country 
gentleman)  '  must  be  considered  as  settling  the  question.' 

For  the  next  few  weeks  in  the  Natural  History  columns 
of  the  Field  a  number  of  letters  from  various  persons 
appeared,  the  majority  taking  up  the  cudgels  to  resent  the 
insult  offered  to  Mr.  Rider  and  the  eminent  herpetologist 
Thomas  Bell,  F.L.S.,  F.R.S.,  and  one  of  the  Council  of  the 
Zoological  Society  ;  and  to  quote  still  other  cases  of  viper- 
swallowing.  *  Only  a  purblind,  stupid  person,*  wrote  one  of 
them,  'could  possibly  mistake  young  vipers  for  a  tongue.' 

J.  Scott  Hayward,  Esq.  of  Folkington,  Sussex,  wrote  that 
three  of  his  men  while  haymaking  found  a  viper,  and  one  of 

494  SNAKES. 

them  crushed  its  head  with  his  boot.  A  young  viper 
'  scrabbled' about  his  boot  after  its  mother.  They  then  cut 
off  the  viper's  head,  and  seven  young  vipers  crawled  out  at 
the  neck.  The  other  had  been  too  late,  but  was  evidently 
trying  to  follow  the  rest.  There  was  no  possibility  of 
mistaking  seven  little  vipers  for  one  hair-like  tongue  in  this 
case ;  but  a  man  *  convinced  against  his  will,'  etc.,  and 
therefore  the  editor  again  abruptly  closed  the  subject. 

Of  the  hundred  or  more  instances  occurring  in  America, 
and  now  presented  to  the  assembly,  those  considered  of 
especial  interest  were  published  in  the  Reports  of  the 
Association ;  and  after  some  further  discussion  Professor 
Gill  said  that  he  considered  the  evidence  sufficient  to 
finally  decide  the  matter.  *  Since  many  important  facts 
in  biology  are  accepted  on  the  statements  of  one  single 
observer,  these  testimonies  are  claimed  to  be  sufficient  to 
set  the  matter  for  ever  at  rest.' 

This  was  the  conclusion  arrived  at  by  the  members  of  the 
American  'Science  Convention  on  Snakes,'  in  1873. 

Of  the  witnesses  introduced  on  that  occasion,  Professor 
Goode  dismissed  those  who  had  only  found  the  young 
snakes  within  the  parent,  but  had  not  see7i  them  enter. 
'  Let  us  not  trust  to  untrained  observations,'  he  said  ;  those 
w^hose  testimony  was  accepted  being,  in  addition  to  the  well- 
known  men  already  mentioned — '  an  intelligent  class  of 
farmers,  planters,  and  business  men,  intelligent  readers  of  an 
agricultural  magazine.'  .  .  .  'The  well-attested  cases  included 
many  non-venomous  species,  the  habit  probably  extending 
to  all  those  which  are  known  as  oviparous^  as  well  as  the 
Crotalidce.       The   examples    embraced    the    garter    snake, 

DO  SNAKES  REFUGE  THEIR   YOUNG  1        495 

Ejitania  sirtalis  and  E.  satirtta ;  the  water  snake,  Tropi- 
donotus  sipedon ;  the  rattlesnake,  Cmidisona  Jiorridus ;  the 
copper-head  and  moccasin,  Ancistrodon  contortrix  and 
piscivonis ;  the  ''  Massasattga"  Crotaliis  tergiiniims ;  the 
Enghsh  viper,  Pelias  bents ;  and  the  mountain  black  snake, 
Coluber  AllegJianiensis.  Probably  all  the  Crotalidce  might  be 
included.  It  remains  to  be  shown  whether  the  habit  extends 
to  the  egg-laying  snakes,  but  as  yet  no  proof  had  occurred. 
The  Professors  then  present  invited  still  further  observations 
and  reports,  affirming  that  the  breeding  habits  of  more  than 
twenty-five  of  the  North  American  genera  were  entirely 

The  following  are  a  few  of  the  cases  recorded. 

A  'water  moccasin'  (probably  Ancistrodon  piseivorus)  had 
been  seen  for  several  days  unwelcomely  close  to  a  southern 
residence.  A  gentleman  wishing  to  entice  her  away  from 
the  water  so  as  the  better  to  kill  her,  had  a  rabbit  placed 
near,  which  by  and  by  she  seized  and  had  nearly  swallowed, 
when  those  on  the  watch  made  a  noise  to  alarm  her.  She 
quickly  disgorged  it,  gave  a  shrill  whistling  noise,  and  five 
young  snakes  ran  from  under  a  log  down  her  throat.  The 
men  cut  off  her  head  and  found  the  five  young  which  tried 
to  get  away. 

*  A  farmer  who  was  mowing  saw  a  number  of  little  snakes 
and  a  large  one.  He  went  a  short  distance  to  fetch  a  fork 
to  kill  them,  and  on  his  return  found  only  the  large  one  left. 
He  struck  it  on  the  back,  and  seven  ran  out  of  her  mouth.' 

'Another  farmer  saw  a  "striped  snake,"  and  noticed  a 
number  of  young  ones  near  to  her  head.  He  alarmed  them, 
and   the  young   ones  rushed   in  at    her  open   mouth.     He 

496  SiVAKES. 

stepped  back  and  watched  to  see  what  next  would  happen, 
when  presently  some  of  them  came  out.  He  killed  the 
mother,  and  all  the  rest  ran  out.' 

A  gentleman  in  Ohio  saw  a  water  snake  on  a  bank.  He 
got  a  pole,  and  with  one  stroke  of  it  wounded  her,  but  not  so 
much  as  to  disable  her.  She  instantly  made  for  the  water, 
swam  about  her  own  length,  when  she  'wheeled  round'  with 
difficulty,  and  placing  her  under  jaw  just  above  the  level  of 
the  water,  opened  her  mouth  wide,  when  some  ten  or  twelve 
young  snakes  ran  or  swam  down  her  throat ;  after  which  she 
went  in  search  of  a  hiding-place.  She  was,  however,  killed 
and  opened,  and  '  about  twenty '  living  young  snakes  were 
found  within  her,  '  two  or  three  of  which  were  seven  or  eight 
inches  long.'  Out  of  the  120  cases  recorded,  sixty-seven  of 
the  witnesses  saw  and  described  the  actions  so  distinctly  as 
to  leave  no  doubt  in  the  minds  of  their  hearers  ;  and  of 
these,  twenty-two  heard  the  parents'  signal  'whistle,'  or  hiss, 
or  click,  or  rattles,  according  to  the  species  observed. 

A  man  Charles  Smith  was  ploughing  near  Chicago,  when 
his  plough  caught  and  turned  over  a  large  flat  stone 
('  rock,'  as  they  call  it  there),  exposing  a  very  large  rattle- 
snake and  her  young  ones.  The  mother  rattled  the  alarm, 
and  all  the  young  ones  ran  down  her  throat.  Smith  killed 
the  old  one,  and  immediately  the  young  ones  began  to  crawl 
back  from  her  mouth  and  were  killed  by  him.  Thirteen  of 
them  were  five  or  six  inches  long. 

Some  of  the  witnesses,  after  killing  the  snake  into  which 
they  had  seen  the  young  ones  retire,  saw  them  shaken  out 
a"-ain  by  dogs  which  had  seized  the  mother.  A  few  of  the 
observers  went  on  several  successive  days  to  watch  a  certain 

DO  SNAKES  REFUGE  THEIR   YOUNG  2        497 

snake  that  was  known  to  have  a  nest  close  by;  and  on  each 
occasion  when  alarmed,  the  young  ran  into  the  parent's 

Mr.  Putnam  also  mentioned  a  '  striped  snake '  (which  he  had 
considered  ovoviviparous)  bringing  forth  live  young  ones  at 
the  end  of  August;  she  'having  been  a  long  while  in  confine- 
ment.'    (This  was  no  doubt  a  case  of  retarded  functions.) 

In  vol.  iii.  of  the  American  Naturalist,  1870,  an 
interesting  record  of  the  'blowing  snake'  {Heterodon 
platyrhiiios)  appears.  One  of  these  snakes  had  been  wounded 
in  her  side,  and  over  one  hundred  young  ones  from  6  to  8  inches 
long  came  forth  from  the  wound.  They  were  all  active,  all 
blowing  and  flattening  their  bodies  like  thoroughly  wide- 
awake Heterodons.  Sixty-three  of  them  being  uninjured 
died  in  alcohol,  thirteen  were  much  lacerated,  as  was  the 
mother,  and  the  rest  escaped.  Says  the  narrator,  *  We  know 
that  this  snake  is  oviparous.  Had  she  swallowed  them,  or 
can  she  be  also  ovoviviparous.'"  (Well,  she  might  be  either 
or  both  as  occasion  demanded !)  This  is  one  of  those 
examples  which  m.ight  have  given  rise  to  the  supposition 
handed  down  by  Aristotle,  and  explained  p.  431. 

One   hundred  snakelings  from  6  to  8  inches   long  seems 

almost  incredible   from  the  space  they  would  occupy.     Yet 

in  bulk  they  would  not  be  more  than  one  large  snake  which 

the  mother  could  easily  swallow.     The  accommodating  ribs 

render  such  habits  more  feasible  than   at  first  sight  would 

appear.        Heterodon  platyrJiinos  is    a    wonderfully    prolific 

snake.     In   the  Zoological  Society  Proceedings,  vol.  vi.   1869, 

S.  S.  Ruthven  states  that  he  has  observed  it  to  bring  forth 

over  one  hundred  live  young  at  a  time. 

2  I 

498  SNAKES. 

One  more  example  shall  be  added,  of  what  Professor 
Goode  considered  a  remarkable  instance  of  hereditary 
instinct.  In  a  hay-field  was  found  a  nest  of  eggs,  one  of 
which  was  cut  open,  when  a  small  but  perfectly  formed 
'milk  adder'  within  immediately  assumed  a  menacing 
attitude  and  'brandished'  its  tongue.  Some  of  the  other 
eggs  were  then  torn  open,  the  young  in  which  acted  in  a 
similar  manner.  Then  the  old  snake  appeared,  and  after 
endeavours  to  encourage  this  unexpected  family,  put  her 
head  on  a  level  with  the  ground  and  opened  her  mouth, 
when  the  young  ones  vanished  down  her  throat. 

It  is  worthy  of  notice  that  in  many  of  the  above  cases 
the  mother  snake  made  a  signal  noise,  that  the  young  ones 
understood  this  signal,  and  that  she  opened  her  mouth  in 
a  manner  which  they  readily  comprehended.  '  This  con- 
currence of  testimony  is  not  to  be  disregarded,'  says 
Professor  Goode.  And  the  reader  will  admit  the  force  of 
these  evidences.  Those  witnesses,  dispersed  over  thousands 
of  square  miles,  had  entered  into  no  compact  to  make  their 
accounts  agree ;  nor  did  one  spectator  in  Kansas  know 
what  another  in  New  Jersey  was  looking  at  or  writing  about. 
After  such  a  weight  of  evidence,  and  in  face  of  the 
decision  arrived  at  by  the  American  Convention,  it  is 
greatly  to  be  lamented  that  the  Field,  so  far  from 
advancing  like  our  American  friends,  now  retrogrades  on  this 
question.  So  lately  as  October  i88i,  when  another  case 
was  cited  of  the  maternal  refuge,  the  Editor  closes  his 
columns  against  investigation  ;  and  refuses  to  be  convinced 
unless  he  were  to  see  '  the  young  vipers  at  the  Zoological 
Gardens  obligingly  run  in  and  out  of  their  mothers'  mouths,' 


which  is  a  performance  we  are  never  likely  to  witness. 
For,  in  the  first  place,  the  young  are  often  produced  in  mid- 
day, in  the  presence  of  the  crowd  of  visitors.  Thus,  from 
their  birth  accustomed  to  publicity,  they  have  not  the  motive 
as  when  in  their  native  haunts  they  are  suddenly  alarmed  at 
the  first  sight  of  an  apparition  in  human  form.  And  in  the 
second  place,  the  young  are  generally  removed  at  once  into 
a  separate  cage,  and  they  lose  all  knowledge  of  their  mother. 
Both  mother  and  progeny  are  familiar  with  humanity  ;  and 
the  former  is  much  more  likely  at  the  sight  of  the  keeper  to 
open  her  mouth  for  a  mouse  than  to  invite  her  children  to 
enter  therein. 

In  the  foregoing  portions  of  this  volume  I  have  been  able 
frequently  to  bring  personal  observations  to  verify  what 
books  have  taught  me.  With  the  present  subject  this 
cannot  be  the  case.  I  have  neither  seen  a  viper  in  the  act 
of  giving  refuge  to  her  young  ones  by  receiving  them  into 
her  mouth,  nor  have  I  ever  had  the  circumstance  described 
to  me  by  any  one  who  has  witnessed  the  proceeding.  This 
is  not  surprising,  seeing  that  my  studies  have  been  prosecuted 
almost  entirely  in  London.  For  any  information  obtained 
at  the  Gardens  I  am  indebted  solely  to  the  keepers,  whose 
opportunities  of  observation  when  aided  by  intelligence 
and  experience  merit  the  confidence  of  the  inquirer. 

So  astonishing  a  phase  of  ophidian  habits — let  us  say 
only  reputed  habits — was,  however,  to  me  one  to  excite 
very  special  interest,  as  well  as  to  induce  inquiry  and  a 
possible  solution  of  the  mystery  ;  and  towards  this  solution 
the  facts  related  in  chap.  xxiv.  and  xxv.  appear  to  me  to 
come    foremost    in    our   aid.      'AH    snakes   that    are   ovo- 

500  SNAKES. 

viviparous,'  was  the  decision  arrived  at  by  the  American 
ophiologists  ;  or  vivipaj'oiis,  for  we  have  seen  that  the  two 
words  have  but  little  value  as  a  distinction.  I  would  venture 
so  far  as  to  render  it  thus  : — 

III  snakes  luJiich  are  eithei'  viviparous^  or  in  whicJi  from 
some  cause  or  other  extrusion  has  been  so  postponed  that  tJie 
young  are  conscio2ts  of  existenee  before  birth.  Conscious  also 
when  born  that  they  had  been  safer  in  that  pre-natal 
condition  than  now  when  assailed  on  all  sides  by  dangers 
hitherto  unknown.  This  idea — and  probably  an  untenable, 
unphysiological,  and  foolish  idea,  which  science  might  laugh 
to  scorn  in  an  instant — still  the  idea  did  flash  into  my  mind 
one  day  in  the  summer  of  1873,  when  Holland,  announcing 
a  brood  of  young  ring  snakes  which  had  just  been  hatched 
at  the  Gardens,  and  describing  their  baby  terrors,  said,  '  It 
is  funny  to  see  how  they  all  try  to  wriggle  back  into  their 
shells  again.' 

*  Then  those  little  Colubers  had  been  conscious  of  security 
before  they  were  hatched,'  I  reflected,  '  and  conscious  when 
they  did  emerge  into -activity  that  the  shell  had  been  a  safe 
refuge  to  them.'  (This  was  prior  to  the  American  Conven- 
tion, of  which  I  knew  nothing  until  long  afterwards.) 

Consciousness  of  locality  must,  I  think,  have  a  good  deal 
to  do  with  the  maternal  refuge  ;  and  that  snakes  possess 
this  consciousness  in  a  strong  degree  has  been  already  shown 
in  their  habit  of  returning  to  the  same  spot  to  hibernate 
year  after  year  :  and  not  only  for  winter  quarters  ;  but  a 
strong  love  of  locality  and  a  memory  of  home  are  observed 
wherever  snakes  abound.  '  They  remain  in  a  hole  or  a 
crevice    of  the    wall    for    years/    Fayrer    affirms.       In    his 

DO  SNAKES  REFUGE  THEIR   YOUNG  1        501 

Prairie  Folk,  Parker  Gilmore  tells  of  a  family  of  '  Puff 
adders '  (by  which  probably  Heterodon  platyrhinos  is  meant) 
that  had  taken  up  their  abode  under  the  boards  of  a  porch 
for  several  years  and  could  not  be  routed  out.  Nicholson, 
also,  in  his  Indian  Snakes,  informs  us  that  when  he  was 
stationed  at  Kamptee  in  1868,  a  cobra  and  a  pair  of  Biingariis 
acntus  lived  in  his  bungalow  for  a  long  while.  He  could 
not  find  where  the  cobra  lived,  but  the  Bungari  made 
themselves  at  home  in  a  hole  of  the  wall  under  his  dressin";- 
table.  He  never  saw  either  of  these  interlopers,  but 
identified  them  by  the  skins  which  they  'periodically  cast  ;' 
taking  advantage  of  his  absence,  no  doubt,  or  of  his  nocturnal 
somnolence,  to  perform  their  toilet  under  his  looking-glas